Lectionary Commentaries for October 29, 2023
Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Matthew 22:34-46

Nicholas J. Schaser

When the Pharisees ask a question about the commandments, Jesus gives an answer that enjoyed broad agreement among the biblical interpreters of his day. A legal expert asks him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36 New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition). While most English translations render the Greek nomos as “Law,” Matthew’s use of the term refers to the Torah (the Five Books of Moses or “Pentateuch”)—a Hebrew word whose most fundamental meaning is not “law” but “teaching” or “instruction.”

Out of all the verses in the Bible’s first five books, Jesus answers the Pharisees’ question with Deuteronomy 6:5: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your life and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). According to Jesus, this is “the great and principal commandment” (22:38). He goes on to cite Leviticus 19:18, saying, “Another is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (22:39).

Jesus’ response would have found resounding affirmation from his Jewish contemporaries. In synagogues to this day, Deuteronomy 6:5 is recited as part of the Shema—the daily prayer that begins with the preceding verse: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone” (Deuteronomy 6:4). In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ citation of both verses constitutes the “most important” commandment of all (Mark 12:29-30). Matthew’s Jesus calls this portion of Scripture the “great” (mēgas) and “principal” (prōtos) commandment (Matthew 22:38).

Jewish sages who lived in Jesus’ era described these biblical verses in very similar ways. For instance, according to the Jerusalem Talmud (circa 4th century CE) Rabbi Akiva—who was born around fifty years after Jesus—says that the Levitical command to “love your neighbor as yourself” is the “great principle of the Torah.”1 A famous story preserved in the Babylonian Talmud (circa 600 CE) states that the renowned first-century sage Hillel once paraphrased Leviticus 19:18 for a non-Jew, saying, “Whatever is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor; that is all the Torah, the rest is commentary. Go study.”2 In Matthew, Jesus couples the same verse with Deuteronomy 6:5 and asserts, “On these two commandments hang all the Torah and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40).

After offering an uncontroversial and uncontested answer to the Pharisees’ query, Jesus asks them a question of his own: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” (22:42a). The inquiry probes the Pharisees’ expectations about the “anointed one” (christos) they believed would arrive based on their reading of their Scriptures. They respond to Jesus by saying that the Messiah will be “the son of David” (22:42b)—a conviction that comes from certain promises that God makes at various times in the history of Israel.

In Jeremiah, for example, the Lord promises a future in which the Jewish people will “serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them” (Jeremiah 30:9). Similarly, God declares through Ezekiel that after the exiles return from Babylon “they shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob … They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever” (Ezekiel 37:25). When these prophetic texts refer to “David” they mean a future king in David’s hereditary line. Thus, the Pharisees are right to say that the Messiah will be a “son of David.”

The Gospel’s very first sentence affirms the Pharisaic assertion about the Messiah’s Davidic origins: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1). Thus, Matthew’s Jesus does not disagree with the Pharisees’ basic assumption.

Still, he also cites Psalm 110:1 to suggest that the Messiah is also more than David’s son. Speaking of this messianic figure, Jesus asks, “How is it then that David in the Spirit calls him ‘Lord,’ saying, ‘The Lord said to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet”’? If David thus calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” (Matthew 22:43-45).

According to Jesus (and subsequent Jewish and Christian tradition), David was the author of Psalm 110, which means that David himself says that the Lord God told “my lord”—interpreted as the Messiah—to sit at the right hand of the Most High. Yet, if the Messiah is to be a descendant of David, one would not anticipate David describing him as “my lord”—the father would not be expected to cede such authority to his offspring. Thus, Jesus’ argument goes, the Christ is both a hereditary son of David and greater than David.

This notion that the Messiah would be superior to his ancestors is also reflected in later Jewish tradition. According to one medieval midrash (Jewish biblical commentary), “the Messiah will be higher than Abraham … more lifted up than Moses … and more exalted than the ministering angels.”3 Matthew’s view that Jesus’ messianic status makes him more authoritative than David and “greater than Solomon” (Matthew 12:42) fits comfortably within the continuum of Judaic conceptions about the awaited anointed one.

Based on many of the exchanges between Jesus and his interlocutors in Matthew, readers might assume that Christ’s views were consistently at odds with those of his contemporaries. One only needs to read just beyond our pericope to hear Matthew’s Jesus unload a litany of woes against the scribes and Pharisees (see Matthew 23:1-36). However, it is also true that Jesus was dedicated to the same Scriptures as his discussion partners, and in first-century Jewish discourse (as in Judaism today) interpretive disagreement was not tantamount to total theological incompatibility. Jesus and the biographer we know as Matthew were nourished by the rich root of Jewish thought and theology, and their convictions about the commandments, messianic expectation, and the necessity of neighborly love found affirmation from others in their own time and beyond.


  1. Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 30b. For online access to this rabbinic text, see https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/115998?lang=bi
  2. Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a. For online access to this rabbinic text, see https://www.sefaria.org/Shabbat.31a.6?lang=bi
  3. Yalkut Shimoni 2:338

First Reading

Commentary on Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18

Diana Abernethy

The Lord’s holiness

Leviticus 19 appears in the section of Leviticus that many scholars refer to as the Holiness Code (Leviticus 17-27), and holiness lies at the heart of Leviticus 19. Leviticus 19 opens with a call to holiness:

“The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:1-2).

Leviticus 19 contains instructions from the Lord to Moses, and they are addressed to the entire community of Israel. While many sections of Leviticus contain instructions specifically for priests, the whole community is called to keep the commandments in Leviticus 19. Leviticus 19:2 also explains why the Israelites should keep these commandments: the Israelites should strive to be holy to imitate God who is holy. Holiness is a complex concept at the heart of the logic in the Holiness Code.1 Holiness first names something central to who the Lord is: God is fundamentally set apart from creation and different from humans. Holiness is also something that humans can receive from God. Humans can increase their holiness through specific kinds of actions; this is why Leviticus 19 begins with a call to holiness and continues with a series of commandments guiding human actions.

Humans practicing holiness

Humans are called to imitate God’s holiness and become more like God even though their efforts will not erase the fundamental gap between them. Some human movement toward holiness involves reflecting how God is set apart from creation—some commandments guide the Israelites in how to be a people set apart from other peoples. Other human endeavors toward holiness entail imitating God’s character. Many Old Testament texts illustrate God’s character, and considering them can illuminate why various qualities of character are emphasized in the commandments for practicing holiness. For example, in Exodus 34:6-7, the Lord identifies mercy, faithfulness, steadfast love, being slow to anger, and justice as key qualities of God’s character, and these are reflected in the commandments of Leviticus 19.

Leviticus 19:15-18 exemplifies commandments that guide the imitation of God’s character.

Leviticus 19:15 calls for fair legal proceedings that are unbiased in relation to the parties’ economic resources; this commandment contributes to an emphasis on justice throughout Old Testament law.

The first half of Leviticus 19:16 instructs humans to avoid harming community members through dishonest speech—a kind of faithfulness.

The interpretation of the latter part of Leviticus 19:16 is debated. The New Revised Standard Version translation reflects one interpretation of this phrase: “you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor.” Robert Alter’s translation stays closer to the Hebrew phrasing and helps readers see how it is open to different interpretations: “You shall not stand over the blood of your fellow man.” Alter explains that a common interpretation of this verse is a call to intervene and assist when a community member has been injured.2 Imitation of God’s compassion and mercy drives this kind of aid.

The commandments in Leviticus 19:17-18 continue the theme of good relationships with other members of the community. These verses caution against inward feelings and actions that harm community members. Each of these verses begins with a prohibition and ends with a positive directive. People should avoid hatred and grudges toward their neighbors, and they should refrain from acting on such impulses. Instead, one should hold neighbors accountable and offer correction when appropriate—both for the sake of one’s neighbor and to avoid complicity in their wrongdoing—and one should “love your neighbor as yourself” (New Revised Standard Version). This commandment functions as a kind of summary of the preceding teachings and has fittingly become a famous encapsulation of much of the Old Testament law. This teaching calls God’s people to imitate God’s abounding steadfast love as they interact with all the people they meet in their everyday lives.3

The conclusion of Leviticus 19:18 reinforces how God’s character is the foundation of these teachings. The “I am the LORD” motive clause is frequently repeated throughout the teachings of Leviticus and underscores that God’s people are called to keep these commandments because of who God is.

The greatest commandments

Jesus’ selection of Leviticus 19:18 as one of the greatest commandments seems fitting after considering its context in Leviticus 19’s instructions for all God’s people to imitate God’s character. In Matthew 22:36-40,4 Jesus famously identifies the two greatest commandments by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18—love for God and love for one’s neighbors. Jesus’ emphasis on love is not an innovation but a reflection of his deep understanding of the Old Testament. Much of the Old Testament law—including Leviticus 19 and the Ten Commandments—guide God’s people in their relationship with God and other members of the community. As Jesus rightly recognizes, love is both a central quality of God’s character and an effective summary of much of the Old Testament’s teaching.


  1. Jacob Milgrom has an excellent detailed account of holiness in his Anchor Bible Commentaries on Leviticus, and this reflection draws on some of his insights. Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 17-22, AB 3A (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 1594-1726.
  2. Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary, Volume 1 The Five Books of Moses (New York: W. W. Norton, 2019), 432.
  3. While different Hebrew words are used for love in Exodus 34:6-7 and Leviticus 19:18, the word for love in Leviticus 19:18 is used of God’s love in other Old Testament passages, including Hosea 3:1.
  4. See also Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-37; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Deuteronomy 34:1-12

Zina Jacque

I grew up in a home where the mantra, “Finish what you started,” almost had the force of scripture. Incomplete school assignments, half-done household chores, or careless efforts of any sort were just not acceptable. Now, as an adult, that upbringing looms large in my unconscious being, and I am compelled to bring to completion the tasks I undertake.  

However, a careful reading of the Bible will find that this notion of finishing everything you start is overrated and under-realized. Yes, Paul reports he finishes the race, and Nehemiah completes the wall, but other Biblical persons are kept from completing their every task or tying it up with a nice neat bow. Joshua did not conquer all the land (Joshua 13:1), David was not allowed to construct the Temple (1 Chronicles 22:8-10), and John, as far as we know, never got off the island (Revelation 1:9). These are not stories of rousing success or well-completed action plans.  

Moses, then, falls in line with those who did not comply with my parents’ expectations. He will not complete the journey through the Exodus with a triumphant entry into the Promised Land. Even though he has accomplished much and served Israel well as prophet, priest, warrior, judge, and king, even though today’s reading describes him as a prophet without equal in all of Israel, he is still stopped short of finishing what he started. And there is something in the limitations put on Moses that might be life-saving for those who serve God and the church today.

Bible readers will know that God’s prohibition against Moses’ entry into the Promised Land is the penalty Moses pays for disobeying God in Numbers 20. In Numbers 20, God commands Moses to bring water to the people by speaking to a rock. Instead, Moses speaks to the people and strikes the rock with his staff, twice. Moses did not follow God’s command, and God reprimands Moses, informing him that he would be prohibited from entering the land. This punishment seems harsh, especially considering that the water shortage experience in Numbers 20 is a repeat scene. The absence of water, the grumbling of the people, and the salvific rock are all found bound together in the book of Exodus. In Exodus 17:1-7 Israel is also without water.  There the people also quarrel with Moses. And in this instance, God does tell Moses to strike the rock with his staff. Obeying God’s every word in Numbers 17, Moses strikes the rock, and just as God promised, water pours forth. Though the similarities between Numbers 17 and Exodus 20 are striking (every pun intended), Moses’ adherence to God’s instructions is the pivotal difference. Because of his inability to follow God’s instructions in Numbers 20, Moses is left to survey the landscape and left out of entering the land, left out of finishing what he started. On the other hand, having been blessed and prepared by Moses, Joshua arises, the people obey him, and the entry to the Promised Land draws near.

What are we to make of this disapproval of Moses and acceptance of Joshua over what seems like a minimally disobedient act? How do we reconcile that the one who is the prophet among the prophets is left back? Where is the grace or good news in this story?  

Focus with me for a moment, not on Moses’ rock-striking mishap, but on Moses’ mentorship of Joshua. Might this passage point us toward a lesson on the relationship between Moses and Joshua? Might it be that Moses learns and teaches us that none of us is sufficient to complete the tasks that build the Kingdom? Might we each need a Joshua who will take our excellence (or whatever we bring) and move it to the next level? Could it be that the success of Moses’ mentoring and preparing Joshua was one of his crowning achievements? In fact, what if we see Moses’ position on top of Mount Pisgah as an actual mountain-top experience, with the mentor achieving all he was meant to achieve and his lieutenant now ready to take the helm? What if Joshua’s readiness is the true triumph of Moses’ last chapter and the best possible ending to Moses’ storied career? 

How would the work of the church, indeed, the world’s work, shift on its axis if human beings strove not to succeed in their own name, for their own fame, or at all costs? What would happen if our ultimate goal as clergy and church leaders was something other than completing every task? What if our highest goal was to equip the next person to advance the cause, even though, like Moses, we are still full of the vim and vigor of our best days? What if we each spent more time looking for and encouraging our Joshuas and less time making sure we are the ones whose names are listed as the final hero of the story? What would be different about your life, my life, and our ministries if we were less focused on leading institutions to victory and more focused on ensuring sufficient bench strength within the institution?

This text tells us of our futures, ones we will not inhabit but will surely shape. Moses did not mean to give Joshua the lead in the last pages of his story, but because he did, Israel had a new generational leader who would do more than begin the journey into the Promised Land; he would take Israel far. However, please remember that Joshua did not tie up all his loose ends either. Pay attention, folks. 

Beloved, you and I were not put on this earth or called to work in the kingdom to complete every single task for which we are equipped or to which we are called. We are ministers and men and women who serve, not messiahs; we are cooperators and contributors who do our best, but we are not a Christ. We are not destined to complete it all.  The famed artist Claude Monet reportedly said, “I say that whoever claims to have finished a canvas is terribly arrogant.” May we be less arrogant about finishing the canvases God has blessed us to begin, and may we be more focused on finding the Joshuas whose talents we can bless and whose artistry, beyond ours, will bless the world. 


Commentary on Psalm 1

Paul K.-K. Cho

This deceptively simple psalm serves as the introduction to the Psalter and sets before us, the readers, a vision of life as a journey marked by bifurcating paths: turn one way, happiness (1:1), another, destruction (1:6).1

Our psalmist, to entice us to choose the happy trail, paints the happy life with images stolen from paradise—verdant with plant life, nourished by gentle waters, seasonably fruitful, and unfailingly prosperous (1:3). The psalmist invites us to the royal garden, perhaps atop the Mountain of God, Eden-like. In contrast, he likens the fate of those who choose to turn at the forks of life’s journey time and again toward destruction, not simply to chaff, but to chaff that the discerning wind drives out of the garden into judgment (1:4-5).

The choice would appear clear: reject the path that leads to destruction and choose the other path, the happy life. But where might we find this path to the garden? Dutifully, the psalmist announces:

Happy is the one … [whose] delight is in the law of the LORD,
and [who] on his law meditates day and night. (1:1, 2 author’s translation)

One mystery remains: What is “the law of the LORD,” and what does it require?

The Law of the LORD as the Pentateuch

The Jewish Bible is organized differently from the Christian Old Testament and is comprised of three parts: in order, the Torah (the Pentateuch), the Neviim (most of the historical and prophetic books of the Christian Old Testament), and the Ketuvim (which begins with Psalms and concludes with Chronicles).

In the first chapter of Joshua, the first book of the Neviim, God tells Joshua: “[Act] in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you … This book of the law … you shall meditate on it day and night …  For then you shall make your way prosperous” (Joshua 1:7, 8). In this passage, “this book of the law” refers to Deuteronomy and more expansively to the entire Pentateuch, the Torah. And, if the “way” of Joshua and the nation he now leads is to “prosper,” Joshua will need to “mediate … day and night” on the Torah, the law of the LORD.

The beginning of the Ketuvim, namely Psalm 1, echoes the beginning of the Neviim and likewise highlights the priority and vital importance of the Torah. Repeating words from Joshua, our psalmist proclaims: “Happy is the one … [whose] delight is in the law of the LORD, / and [who] on his law meditates day and night … In all that he does, he will prosper” (1:1, 2, 3 author’s translation). If we are right that Psalm 1 alludes to Joshua 1, then the psalmist’s “law of the LORD” refers to “the law that my servant Moses commanded you … this book of the law,” namely, the Torah.

When we identify the “law of the LORD” with the Torah, we transform Psalm 1 into an interpretative key to the Torah and the Neviim, and vice versa. Our psalm, with Joshua 1, exhorts us to mediate on the Torah for teaching that leads to happiness and, correspondingly, to read the Neviim, the stories of Joshua to Kings and the prophecies of Isaiah to Malachi, as the arena in which the psalmist’s claim that “Happy is the one … ” plays out. How do you learn not to walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers? Meditate on the Torah. How happy is a tree planted by streams of water and how miserable the fate of the wicked? Look to the Neviim.

The Law of the LORD as the Psalter

Our psalm echoes Joshua 1 and upholds the importance of the Torah and the Neviim. But we should not forget that Psalm 1 is the introduction to the Psalter. It does not point backward in affirmation only but also forward in anticipation. When the psalmist exhorts us to “mediate on the Law of the LORD day and night,” therefore, he no doubt also exhorts the studied consideration and the impassioned recitation of the Psalter itself. In some sense, the Psalter is the “law of the LORD.”

The Psalter is words spoken by human beings to God in lament, petition, thanksgiving, and praise. So it might seem odd to think of the human words of the Psalter as the law of the LORD. But some have wondered whether the Psalter was not divided into five books (Book I consisting of Psalms 1-41; Book II Psalms 42-72; Book III Psalms 73-89; Book IV Psalms 90-106; and Book V Psalms 107-150) in analogy to the five books of the Torah. It has also been observed that the superscriptions of the psalms invite us to read the Psalter in conjunction with the narratives of the Neviim. For example, superscriptions to many psalms refer to events in David’s life recounted in 1 and 2 Samuel. The Psalter, in this way, brings together the Torah and the Neviim.

However one interprets this complex relationship between Torah, Neviim, and the Psalter, it cannot be doubted that Psalm 1, as an introduction to the Psalter, offers the meditation on the psalms that follow as part of the happiness program. It proclaims: Happy are those who meditate on the psalms day and night.

Meditating on the Psalter

What does it mean to meditate on the psalms?

To meditate on the psalms means first and foremost to speak the human words of each psalm to God, that is, to lament, petition, give thanks, and to praise God day and night. John Calvin rightly called the Psalter “the anatomy of all the parts of the human soul.” What the meditation on the psalms requires, then, is the honest presentation of all the parts of our human soul before God. It requires us to give heartfelt thanksgiving and praise, joining the heavens, the earth, and even the sea. It also requires us to cry aloud from upon the ash heaps—in complaint, in sorrow, in anger, in protest—to God. To borrow words from Kierkegaard, to meditate on the psalms is to choose to will to be ourselves before God, to sing full throated songs of praise when that is appropriate and to give honest articulation to our despair when we are sad. To present our very ordinary selves, our daily selves, to God, that is the advice of the Psalm.

Happy is the one who meditates day and night on the law of the Lord!


  1. Commentary first published on this site on Sept. 4, 2016.

Second Reading

Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

David Carr

1 Thessalonians 2:1–8 continues the extended thanksgiving that Paul begins in 1:2–10, and the lectionary fittingly identifies 2:1–8 as a pericope. The explanatory gar in the Greek text of verse 1 highlights the thematic continuity with the preceding verses while marking a shift to a new unit. Paul again uses an explanatory gar in 2:9 to appeal to the Thessalonians’ memory (“You remember…”), which parallels the similar appeal in 2:1 (“You yourselves know…”). Each pericope ends with parental metaphors (2:8, 11–12), which strengthens the sense that 2:1–12 contains two somewhat parallel units. Although one could reasonably claim that 2:1–12 forms a single pericope with two subsections (verses 1–8 and verses 9–12), the lectionary justifiably isolates 2:1–8.

Especially prominent here are Paul’s efforts to shape the Thessalonians’ perceptions of his relationship to them. He may feel the need to do so because some have tried to convince the Christ-believers in Thessalonica that Paul was wrong, dishonest, greedy, or merely seeking to build a reputation for himself (2:2–5). “At stake here,” then, “is not first of all the message per se, but the messenger.”1 Paul thus uses verses 1–8 for the presentation of his ministerial team’s goals and motives.

For this rhetorical self-presentation, one might say—borrowing language from an area of research called positioning theory—that Paul positions himself in certain ways vis-à-vis the Thessalonians.2 In so doing, he seeks to establish a cluster of identities in relation to one another. He positions his team as those “approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel” (2:4), which they shared with the Thessalonians amid “great opposition” (2:4). In verse 7, Paul notes, perhaps as a reminder of his authority (see also Philemon 8–9, 14), that as “apostles of Christ” they were able to make “demands” (literally “able to be in weight;” dunamenoi en barei einai) of the Thessalonians. Implicitly, then, Paul arranges the relationships of the three distinct parties involved in a hierarchy: (1) God has entrusted and empowered (2) Paul’s apostolic team to preach the Gospel to and lead (3) the Thessalonian community. Paul tacitly establishes a chain of command:

God  🡪  Paul’s apostolic team  🡪  the Thessalonians.

Yet, rather than wield authority like a tyrant by making demands of the Thessalonians, Paul ostensibly seeks to persuade them of the reliability of this relational framework. To do so, it is vital that he establish his apostolic team as trustworthy for such a relationship. His self-presentation includes at least two major features.

First, commentators agree that he implicitly contrasts himself with well-known itinerant orators, or “market-place preachers,” of his day—charlatans who flattered people for financial gain, reputation, or other self-indulgent purposes.3 He asserts negatively that his team’s “appeal” (paraklēsis) does not emerge from “deceit or impure motives or trickery” (2:3). Nor do they use “words of flattery” or minister with “a pretext for greed,” seeking “praise (doxa) from mortals” (2:5–6). More positively, Paul and his colleagues have been authorized by God (verse 4), and they speak “not to please mortals but to please God who tests [their] hearts” (verse 5; see also Galatians 1:10; Jeremiah 11:20). Paul’s point is straightforward: he and his apostolic team are not like sophist grifters who preach for self-gain; they are approved by God and sincere.

To support his claims, Paul twice reminds the Thessalonians that they know such to be true from their own experience of Paul and his companions (“as you know”/kathōs oidate in verses 2:2, 5; see also 1:5). He thus subtly reminds the Thessalonians that they need not merely take his word for it; they can trust what he writes because they have experienced firsthand what he claims about himself and his colleagues.

Second, Paul presents his team with a couple of striking metaphors. The first involves some text-critical challenges. According to the New Revised Standard Version, Paul writes in verse 7 that they were “gentle (ēpioi) among” the Thessalonians. Our earliest manuscripts, however, feature not the term “gentle” but the word “infants” (nēpioi). Based on the external manuscript evidence, the latter is, in my view, the stronger reading. The term “infants” creates tension—perhaps also making it the harder reading—with Paul’s second metaphor of “a nurse tenderly caring for her own children” (verse 8). In my translation, Paul writes, “But we were infants among you, as a nurse would care for her own children” (verse 7). Hence the tension: how can Paul’s team be both an infant and a mother (the one nursing cares for her own children), and later a father (verse 11) in relation to the Thessalonians? As suggested by Galatians 4:19, Paul is apparently unbothered by using mixed metaphors to convey his points. Here, the metaphor of infants seemingly conveys innocence (see also 1 Corinthians 14:20), alongside a sense of comforting care (thalpō) that the imagery of a nursing mother communicates.

To pull these threads together, Paul uses these verses largely for the rhetorical self-presentation of his ministerial team. Through assertions and metaphors, he positions himself as God’s trustworthy delegate, sent to preach to and care for the Thessalonians. At least at the level of rhetoric, this passage reveals some values that Paul believes he shares with his audience, namely, sincerity and gentleness, in contrast to greed or abuse of power.


  1. Gordon D. Fee, The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 61.
  2. See The Self and Others: Positioning Individuals and Groups in Personal, Political, and Cultural Contexts, ed. Harré and Moghaddam (Westport, Conn: Praeger, 2003). For use of positioning theory in biblical studies, see Stephen E. Young, Our Beloved Brother: Purpose and Community in Paul’s Letter to Philemon (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2021).
  3. See Abraham J. Malherbe, “‘Gentle as a Nurse’: The Cynic Background of I Thess ii,” NovT 12 (1970): 15–23; Andy Johnson, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Two Horizons New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016), 43–45.