1 & 2 Thessalonians. By Andy Johnson, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016. 349 pp. Paper, $26.00.
I was not familiar with the expression missional hermeneutic before I read this commentary. After reading it I’m not quite sure what that is.
Johnson, Professor of NT at Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, is not writing a typical commentary. For one thing, he does not discuss individual verses. Rather, he discusses a group of verses, typically five to ten verses, at a time. That makes it hard at times to find where he discusses a given verse or phrase.
In his discussion he does not present studies of words or phrases as is commonly seen in other commentaries. Rather, he discusses various interpretive options and decides on the basis of theological concerns (e.g., the meaning of skeuos in 1 Thess 4:4 (p. 109).
He is evidently attempting to read the Thessalonian epistles within a context of what God is doing in the world, that is, God’s mission. However, in order to do that, one must have an accurate view of what God is doing in the world. That view should arise from Scripture, not be imposed upon it.
Johnson clearly rejects a Dispensational view of God’s mission in the world (see pp. 130 note 405, 288-305). That in turn greatly skews the way he views passages like 1 Thess 4:16-17; 1 Thess 5:9-10; Dan 9:24-27; and a host of other texts.
For example, when the author comes to 1 Thess 5:1-11, he admits that a different Greek word for sleep, katheudō, is used in these verses, than Paul used in 1 Thess 4:13-18 (koimaō). However, Johnson suggests that Paul was still “using katheudō euphemistically to refer to being dead in 1 Thess 5:10” (p. 146). Thus he explains 1 Thess 5:10 in this way, “Christ died for us so that whether we are asleep in death or awake (grēgorōmen)—which does not mean merely being alive as opposed to being dead, but being alive and living self-controlled lives as we participate in the mission Dei—we will live with Christ” (p. 146).
Actually both katheudō and gregoreō were used by Paul four verses earlier, in 1 Thess 5:6. There they clearly mean, “let us not sleep [morally] as others do, but let us watch and be sober.” Johnson admits that is what both verbs mean in v 6 (p. 145). But then four verses later his theology leads him to postulate that the words then mean “asleep in death” and “awake…alive and living self-controlled lives.”
The natural understanding is that in v 10 Paul is saying that whether we are morally asleep or watchful at the time of the Rapture, we will live together with Him. Indeed, Johnson even admits as much, saying that if the words carry the same meaning in v 10 as in v 6, then “the sense could be that, because Christ died for us, we will live with him, even if our whole pattern of life is the same as that of those belonging to the night/darkness” (p. 145). He cites Edgar who explains, “Whether we live properly or not, we will be with him” (p. 145 note 456). I find it refreshing that Johnson accurately covered this other view, one which best fits the context.
JOTGES readers who hold to Dispensationalism will not find much that is consistent with a Dispensational perspective in this commentary. But that does not mean that there is nothing of value here for Dispensationalists. Let me give a few examples of gems I found in this commentary.
Johnson sees the shouting in 1 Thess 4:16 as the voice of Jesus and makes a fascinating connection with the creation account. He says, “the Son releases the breath/Spirit he receives from the Father to go forth in hopelessly dead bodies to permeate and transform them into bodies for the new creation, bodies that Paul calls elsewhere ‘spiritual bodies’ (1 Cor 15:44) (p. 129).
Even more impressive was an observation Johnson made about the repetition of parousia (coming) in 2 Thess 2:8 and 9. I don’t recall noticing this before. In v 8 Paul speaks of “the brightness of His [the Lord’s] coming [parousia].” Then in the very next verse Paul says, “The coming [parousia] of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan…” Johnson makes this great point: “In vv. 9-12 Paul describes the parousia of the ‘lawless one’ and its results. The fact that he can use the same term [parousia] to refer to the coming of the lawless one as he does to refer to the Lord’s royal coming colors the confrontation of v. 8 as that of the true king deposing a false claimant to the throne” (p. 195). That is good stuff.
Readers should be aware that Johnson is open to annihilationism and seems to hold to universalism, that all will ultimately get into Christ’s kingdom (p. 174).
I recommend this commentary for those who teach the NT and for Pastors and others who are willing and able to dig to find the gold buried here. I do not recommend this commentary for most believers since I’m concerned that most would be more confused than helped by it.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society