Paul and the Apocalyptic Triumph

An Investigation of the Usage of Jewish and Greco-Roman Imagery in 1 Thess. 4:13–18

by Michael E. Peach (Author)
Monographs XII, 198 Pages
Series: Apocalypticism, Volume 1


1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 has long been the quintessential Pauline text on the parousia of Christ. Nowhere else does Paul reveal a more vivid picture of Christ’s coming. The apostle Paul employs a number of images to describe the parousia to the Thessalonian congregation who have become anxious, grief-stricken, and despairing in the midst of the loss of their loved ones. Until recently scholars have held that Paul’s use of imagery in 1 Thess. 4:13–18 was either inspired by Greco-Roman imperial categories or Jewish apocalyptic categories.
Michael E. Peach provides a fresh examination of imagery in 1 Thess. 4:13–18 arguing that Paul synthesizes both the Jewish and Greco-Roman imagery. With careful analysis, Peach traces the history of interpretation of Pauline eschatology finding patterns of thought concerning the source of inspiration of Paul’s use of imagery. Utilizing these patterns, the author further examines the meaning and function of four images employed by Paul: «a loud command,» «the sound of an archangel,» «the trumpet of God,» and «the meeting of the Lord.» Ultimately, Peach’s discoveries demonstrate that Paul synthesizes apocalyptic and Greco-Roman triumph imagery to create a dramatic mosaic of the apocalyptic triumph, the parousia of Jesus Christ.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • A Survey of Scholars on the Background of Paul’s Imagery
  • The Need for a Fresh Study
  • Thesis and Method
  • Chapter 1. The History of Interpretation of Pauline Eschatology
  • Introduction
  • Component #1: The History of Interpretation from Auguste Sabatier to Henry M. Shires: A Quest to Establish the Source of Inspiration for Pauline Eschatology
  • Section #1: A Developmental Scheme to Pauline Eschatology
  • Section #2: The Developmental Approach Under Siege
  • Section #3: A Psychologically Oriented Developmental Scheme to Pauline Eschatology
  • Section #4: The Wall Between Jewish and Greco-Roman Categories of Expression Comes Down
  • Component #2: 1 Thess. 4:13–18 as a Greco-Roman Formal Reception, as a Theophany, or Influenced by Jewish Apocalyptic Assumption Motifs
  • Component #3: Is the Imagery in 1 Thess. 4:13–18 Primarily Greco-Roman or Jewish in Nature? Trends Since Plevnik
  • Trends Since Plevnik Part 1: The Background of the Imagery in 1 Thess. 4:13–18 Is Primarily Greco-Roman in Nature
  • Trends Since Plevnik Part 2: The Background of the Imagery in 1 Thess. 4:13–18 Is Primarily Jewish in Nature
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 2. The Meaning and Function of the Theophanic, Apocalyptic, and Greco-Roman Imagery Located Outside the Context of 1 Thess. 4:13–18
  • Introduction
  • Definitions
  • Theophany
  • Apocalyptic
  • The Meaning and Function of Paul’s Imagery in 1 Thess. 4:13–18
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 3. The Meaning and Function of the Theophanic, Apocalyptic, and Greco-Roman Imagery in 1 Thess. 4:13–18
  • Introduction
  • Paul and Thessalonica
  • 1 Thess. 4:13–18 and the Parousia
  • The Context of 1 Thess. 4:13–18
  • Euphemism for Death? Or Christian Usage for a Future Resurrection?
  • The Purpose of 1 Thess. 4:13–18
  • The Reason for Hope
  • The Destination of Those Who Have Fallen Asleep
  • Word of the Lord
  • You Will Not Be Left Behind
  • Three Attendant Circumstances
  • ἁρπάςω: Don’t Get “Carried Away”
  • The Clouds: A Vehicle or Not?
  • ἁπάντησιν: The Grand Welcome
  • Conclusion
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

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This monograph is a revised version of my doctoral thesis, which was accepted at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in October 2013. Completing this project would not be possible without the faith, hope, and love of several people. Pride of place goes to my advisor, Dr. R. Michael Kuykendall who went out of his way to make sure this project from start to finish was the best it could be. His insightful comments, encouragement, and expertise were vital throughout the completion of this thesis.

I am grateful to the entire team at Peter Lang Publishing, especially Dr. Isaac Oliver, Dr. Carlos A. Segovia, and Anders K. Petersen for accepting the work for publication. Dr. D. Michael Martin of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and Dr. Grant R. Osborne of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School provided encouragement and helpful insights and suggestions during their examination of the thesis at Golden Gate. Special thanks go out to Dr. Sean M. McDonough and Dr. Roy E. Ciampa who read an early draft of this monograph and provided helpful comments and suggestions that contributed much to this thesis.

I owe a debt of gratitude to my parents, Mr. Thomas and Mrs. Carol Peach for all their encouragement, love and support, and faith in me, without which this project would have been impossible. I also want to thank my in-laws Dr. Rafael and Mrs. Ramona Hernández for their love and support. ← xi | xii →

Most of all, I want to thank my wife Jennifer, my love, my life, my soul mate who made many sacrifices so I could follow my dream, my passion, and my calling to write this monograph. Honey, you were my inspiration, the one who made this all possible.

← xii | 1 →


1 Thess. 4:13–18 is the quintessential Pauline text on the coming of the Lord. Nowhere else does the apostle Paul reveal such a vivid portrait of the parousia of Jesus Christ. Paul expresses the parousia with a plethora of imagery. The apostle employs a number of words and phrases to paint a picture of the parousia for the congregation at Thessalonica to address the building anxiety, grief, and lack of hope which the believers had begun to experience surrounding the future of their deceased loved-ones. Until recently scholars concluded that Paul’s use of imagery in 1 Thess. 4:13–18 had its foundation either in Greco-Roman imperial categories or Jewish categories.1

A Survey of Scholars on the Background of Paul’s Imagery

In 1930 Erik Peterson published an important article that proposed that the imagery of 1 Thess. 4:13–18 is rooted in Hellenistic imagery. Peterson observed that there is a great similarity between the imperial imagery in Hellenism and Paul’s use of avpa,nthsin in 1 Thess. 4:17. He maintained that avpa,nthsin is an Hellenistic technical term used to describe the event of a group of people going out of a city to meet a visiting dignitary and then escorting that ← 1 | 2 → dignitary back into the city. Peterson saw clear imperial roots attached to the word.2 The imperial visitor approaches the city and all the citizens come out to welcome him. Usually there is a great parade through the city. Thus, at the parousia, the faithful leave their civitas and meet (avpa,nthsin) Christ and follow him into their earthly city. Peterson describes this event as the Einholung of the Lord.3 According to Peterson, this technical use of avpa,nthsin would not be difficult for the Thessalonians to understand, given the Greco-Roman culture in which they lived, and the imperial cult similarities to ku,rioj, in which the imperial notable’s coming (parousi,a) would be met by the people with a grand meeting of pomp and circumstance.4

However, the Hellenistic technical interpretation has not gone without its critics. Jacques Dupont proposed a different theory for the origin of the imagery of 1 Thess. 4:13–18. Dupont suggested that Paul borrowed not from Hellenism but from the theophany imagery in Exod. 19:10–18. He maintained that the theophany imagery of the clouds, the trumpet, the descent of the Lord, and the meeting in Paul’s description of Jesus’ parousia in 1 Thess. 4:16–17, is similar and influenced by the Lord’s coming down on Mount Sinai in a cloud and with a trumpet and the Israelites going out to meet Yahweh.5 More than a few agree with Dupont’s position.6

Joseph Plevnik, a major contributor to the discussion, proposed that neither Dupont’s nor Peterson’s interpretation is sufficient.7 On the one hand, Plevnik does concur with Dupont that Paul’s source of imagery in 1 Thess. 4:13–18 is anchored in the Jewish scriptures and apocalyptic imagery and not Hellenistic imperial imagery. On the other hand, he questions Dupont’s proposal that the theophany depicted in the LXX Exod. 19:10–18 is foundational for the imagery of 1 Thess. 4:13–18.8 Rather, he proposes that the terms ke,leusma, avrca,ggeloj, and sa,lpigx (4:16), which Paul employs to illustrate the parousia are based in early Jewish apocalyptic literature and more specifically rooted in exalted-assumption imagery.9

More recently there has been a shift from the either/or approach of Peterson, Dupont, and Plevnik to a both/and approach to the origin of the imagery in 1 Thess. 4:13–18. In his revised dissertation, The Eschatology of First Thessalonians, David Luckensmeyer asserts that eschatology is the “hermeneutical key” to unlock Paul’s “pattern of exhortation” in 1 Thessalonians.10 Within his analysis of 1 Thess. 4:13–18, Luckensmeyer deviates from Plevnik’s view that ke,leusma (4:16) is conclusive with theophany and Day of the Lord texts. Rather, he holds the position that there are “multiple influences,” both Jewish and Hellenistic in origin, such as imperial-political and Second Temple ← 2 | 3 → texts.11 Luckensmeyer suggests that Plevnik’s attempts “to turn the command, or ke,leusma, into a highly theologized term referring to Christ’s coming in power ignores the wider and more generic uses of the motif in antiquity.”12

Furthermore, he questions Plevnik’s proposal that a`rpazw (4:17) only invokes a motif of Jewish apocalyptic thought.13 According to Luckensmeyer, one should not assume that “Paul uses the motif in line with Jewish apocalyptic thought.”14 Influenced by the work of Abraham J. Malherbe and Gerhard Lohfink, Luckensmeyer suggests that the motif may also come from the Hellenistic consolation traditions.15 The consolation motif is further supported by Paul’s encouragement of reassurance to the Thessalonians (4:17d-18).

In a relatively lengthy section, Luckensmeyer investigates the origin of the avpa,nthsin imagery. Luckensmeyer critiques both Peterson’s and Dupont’s interpretation.16 On the one hand, Dupont appropriately questions Peterson’s lack of Jewish sources. On the other hand, Dupont overplays his hand by not dealing adequately with the inherent influence of Hellenistic formal receptions that Peterson established. Luckensmeyer is quick to point out that “even if Paul has the Sinai (and the LXX tradition) solely in mind” while he crafted eivj avpa,nthsin in 1 Thess. 4:17, the similarities with Hellenistic formal receptions is unmistakable.17 In the final analysis, after working through all the relevant primary and secondary sources, he suggests that either source, both Hellenistic formal receptions and Jewish (both apocalyptic and/or theophanic contexts) in origin may have inspired Paul’s use of imagery.18

Luckensmeyer makes a significant contribution to the debate of whether Paul’s use of imagery in 1 Thess. 4:13–18 is either Greco-Roman or Jewish in nature. He makes an important corrective to the either/or approaches of Peterson, Dupont, and Plevnik: he acknowledges the viability of a both-and approach. The origin of Paul’s use of imagery—whether Jewish or Greco- Roman—ought not be in opposition to one another as Peterson and Dupont maintain. According to Luckensmeyer, Paul makes use of both Jewish and Greco-Roman imagery in 1 Thess. 4:13–18.

Osvaldo D. Vena asserts in a revised and expanded edition of his dissertation, The Parousia and Its Rereadings, that the New Testament teaching of the parousia was a rereading and reappropriation of Jewish eschatological texts “done from a Sitz im Leben highly influenced culturally by Hellenism, politically by the Roman domination, and religiously by Jewish apocalyptic thought.”19 Applying his thesis to Paul’s depiction of the parousia in 1 Thess. 4:13–18, he suggests that the imagery is primarily Jewish in origin, albeit he acknowledges that Paul was influenced by a Hellenistic Sitz im Leben. Vena proposes that the ← 3 | 4 → doctrine of the parousia stems from Jewish eschatology. In order to know how Paul uses certain elements of Jewish eschatology, one must understand Hellenism’s influence on that eschatology, especially in how it applies culturally, politically, and religiously.20

Agreeing with Plevnik, Vena maintains that the terms ke,leusma, avrca,ggeloj, and sa,lpigx (v. 16) have their origin primarily in apocalyptic literature, early Jewish theophany texts, and Day of the Lord traditions.21 Vena also comes to the same conclusion as Plevnik, against Peterson, that Paul describes the Einholung of the faithful in 1 Thess. 4:17 and not the Einholung of Christ.22 However, Vena does admit the possibility of imperial parousia imagery being used by Paul as well. In summary, Vena argues that Paul uses a combination of traditions in his portrayal of the parousia in 1 Thess. 4:13–18: a combination of Hellenistic parousia language and assumption language found in early Jewish and apocalyptic texts.23

Vena’s position is similar to Luckensmeyer in terms of his recognition that Paul deploys both Jewish and Hellenistic imagery in 1 Thess. 4:13–18. However, where Luckensmeyer stresses a Hellenistic origin, Vena stresses a more Jewish influence to the origin of the imagery. Both affirm that the origin of Paul’s use of imagery—whether Jewish or Hellenistic—ought not be in opposition to one another. Rather, Paul may have used both, while he stressed one primarily at different times and in different ways.

S. Sobanaraj in his revised doctoral dissertation, entitled “Diversity in Paul’s Eschatology and Its Determinants: A Study of Selected Eschatological Themes in Paul’s Letters,” moves the either/or or both/and debate in terms of the origin of Paul’s use of imagery in 1 Thess. 4:13–18 further.24 Sobanaraj’s thesis analyzes “the problem of diversity in Paul’s eschatology and attempts to unfold the riddles that shroud the eschatological perspectives of Paul in the context of delay of the parousia.”25 In doing so, he hopes to investigate “the problem of diversity in Paul’s eschatology from the perspective of the role of the different concepts of time (linear versus cyclic time), Paul’s moderate appropriation of dualistic categories and his use of eschatological language for functional purposes that appear to have made Paul’s eschatology a complex scheme.”26

Sobanaraj suggests that Pauline eschatology at its core is complex and relies on a wide variety of images to articulate its function in the lives of the various congregations of Paul. His modus operandi has three components: historical-critical, literary critical analysis, and a “functional sociological approach.”27 Sobanaraj employs several passages to make his case. ← 4 | 5 →

Sobanaraj suggests that the images of ke,leusma, avrca,ggeloj, and sa,lpigx in 1 Thess. 4:13–18 have their origin primarily in Hellenistic categories. However, he does leave a small opening to the effect that the imageries, especially sa,lpigx, have origins in Jewish apocalyptic and/or theophany imagery.28 He also proposes that the use of sa,lpigx was employed by Paul to grab the attention of the Greeks in the congregation.29 Meanwhile, Sobanaraj understands the use of assumption imagery (a`rpazw) as fundamentally apocalyptic in nature.30

Sobanaraj investigates the work of Peterson, Dupont, and Plevnik on the term avpa,nthsij and concludes that it is primarily a Hellenistic term. Sobanaraj does not rule out the possibility that Paul was inspired by Jewish apocalyptic and theophany texts when he used the term. In the final analysis, “we cannot overlook the political connotation of the term” given the tensions of the Thessalonian situation.31

Overall, Sobanaraj’s investigation of the origin of the imagery in the context of 1 Thess. 4:13–18 proposes that Paul may have blended and mixed the Jewish and Hellenistic imagery traditions at times, while primarily applying the whole of the imagery from a Hellenistic origin. He also claims that Paul did so “without proper framework, which made his presentation vague” and ambiguous at points.32 However, Sobanaraj fails to mention that the blending and mixing of Jewish and Greco-Roman imagery may have been Paul’s actual intended framework.

Sobanaraj does move the debate forward. Where Luckensmeyer implies that Paul may have both Jewish and Hellenistic categories in mind, it is Sobanaraj who leaves the door open that at times Paul may have mixed them. Where Vena suggests that Paul employs a combination of Hellenistic and Jewish imagery, albeit he stresses the Jewish influence of the imagery, it is Sobanaraj who proposes a blending of the imagery at times, while overall stressing that the imagery of 1 Thess. 4:13–18 is primarily Hellenistic in origin.


XII, 198
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (April)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XII, 198 pp.

Biographical notes

Michael E. Peach (Author)

Michael E. Peach (PhD, New Testament, Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary) is Adjunct Professor of New Testament Studies at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of several articles for the Lexham Bible Dictionary and the Lexham Theological Wordbook.


Title: Paul and the Apocalyptic Triumph