Paul and the Olivet discourse.

1 Thessalonians 4.13-5.11.

Several scholars have noticed the close connection between 1 Thessalonians 4.13-5.11 and the Matthean version of the Olivet discourse, and my purpose here is to present the substance of those connections in synoptic form.

1 Thessalonians 4.13-5.11, as a whole, must be read as a literary unit. The introduction and conclusion presented below together comprise an inclusio, and the intervening material happens to coincide remarkably with the outline of Olivet.

The following table arranges seventeen items from 1 Thessalonians 4.13-5.11 in the order in which they appear in Paul. All except the first of these items fall in 4.16-5.7 (the material between the bookends of the inclusio). These seventeen items are words or motifs that also appear in the Olivet discourse. I have enclosed in parentheses () those instances in which the correspondence is not exact.

Paul. Matthew. Mark. Luke.
παρουσια 24.3, 27, 37, 39 - -
heaven 24.30 - -
archangel (24.31) (13.27) -
trumpet 24.31 - -
together with (24.31) (13.27)
clouds 24.30 13.26 (21.27)
εις απαντησιν 25.6 - -
περι δε 24.36 13.32 -
times and seasons (24.36) (13.32) -
thief 24.43 - -
night 24.43 (13.35) -
αιφνιδιος - - 21.34
birth pang (24.8) (13.8) -
(no) escape - - 21.36
sleep 25.5 13.36 -
awake 24.42 13.35 *
drunkenness (24.49) - 21.34
17 items in all 10 + (5) = 15 4 + (5) = 9 3 + (1) = 4

* The motif of staying awake is found in Luke 12.37, amongst our peripheral texts.

It is, as one can readily tell, the Matthean version of Olivet that this Pauline pericope most closely matches. The most obvious coincidence of word or motif between Matthew and Paul is that both call the event in question the παρουσια, or advent, usually translated in Latin as adventus and in English as coming. This term is found in neither Mark nor Luke.

But the parallels extend far beyond mere phraseology.

(There are also connections between this Pauline passage and the account of the ascension in Acts 1.6-11.)

Note the correspondence both in general order of thematic units between Paul and Olivet and at the verbal level within each unit.


1 Thessalonians 4.13-15. Matthew.
Ου θελομεν δε υμας αγνοειν, αδελφοι,
περι των κοιμωμενων,
ινα μη λυπησθε καθως και οι λοιποι
οι μη εχοντες ελπιδα.
ει γαρ πιστευομεν οτι Ιησους απεθανεν
και ανεστη, ουτως και ο θεος
τους κοιμηθεντας δια του Ιησου
αξει συν αυτω.
τουτο γαρ υμιν λεγομεν εν λογω κυριου,
οτι ημεις οι ζωντες
οι περιλειπομενοι
εις την παρουσιαν του κυριου
ου μη φθασωμεν τους κοιμηθεντας.

We do not want you to be ignorant, brethren,
about those who are sleeping,
so that you might not be sorrowful as the rest
who have no hope.
For if we believe that Jesus died
and rose again, thus also God
will bring with him
those who have fallen asleep through Jesus.
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord,
that we who are alive
and remain
to the advent of the Lord
will not precede those who have fallen asleep.

The coming of the Lord.

1 Thessalonians 4.16-18. Matthew 24.30-31.
Οτι αυτος ο κυριος εν κελευσματι,
εν φωνη αρχαγγελου
και εν σαλπιγγι θεου,
καταβησεται απ ουρανου,
και οι νεκροι εν Χριστω
αναστησονται πρωτον,
επειτα ημεις οι ζωντες
οι περιλειπομενοι αμα συν αυτοις
αρπαγησομεθα εν νεφελαις
εις απαντησιν του κυριου εις αερα·
και ουτως παντοτε συν κυριω εσομεθα.
ωστε παρακαλειτε αλληλους
εν τοις λογοις τουτοις.

Because the Lord himself, with a shout,
with the voice of the archangel
and with the trumpet of God,
will descend from heaven,
and the dead in Christ
will rise first.
Afterward we who are alive
and remain will be raptured up
together with them in the clouds
to meet the Lord in the air,
and thus we will be with the Lord for all time.
Therefore comfort each other
with these words.
Και τοτε φανησεται το σημειον
του υιου του ανθρωπου εν ουρανω,
και τοτε κοψονται πασαι αι φυλαι
της γης και οψονται
τον υιον του ανθρωπου ερχομενον
επι των νεφελων του ουρανου
μετα δυναμεως και δοξης πολλης
και αποστελει
τους αγγελους αυτου
μετα σαλπιγγος μεγαλης,
και επισυναξουσιν τους εκλεκτους αυτου
εκ των τεσσαρων ανεμων απ ακρων
ουρανων εως ακρων αυτων.

And then the sign of the son of man
in heaven shall appear,
and then all the tribes of the land
shall mourn, and they shall see
the son of man coming
upon the clouds of heaven
with power and great glory,
and he will send out
his angels
with a great trumpet,
and they shall gather his elect
from the four winds, from the limits
of the heavens until their limits.

The fig tree.

1 Thessalonians. Matthew 24.32-35.
Απο δε της συκης μαθετε την παραβολην·
οταν ηδη ο κλαδος αυτης γενηται
απαλος και τα φυλλα εκφυη,
γινωσκετε οτι εγγυς το θερος·
ουτως και υμεις,
οταν ιδητε παντα ταυτα,
γινωσκετε οτι εγγυς εστιν επι θυραις.
αμην λεγω υμιν οτι
ου μη παρελθη η γενεα αυτη
εως αν παντα ταυτα γενηται.
ο ουρανος και η γη παρελευσεται,
οι δε λογοι μου ου μη παρελθωσιν.

But learn the parable from the fig tree.
When its branch has already become
tender and grows forth its leaves,
you know that the summer is at hand.
Thus also you,
when you see all these things,
know that it is at hand, right at the gates.
Amen, I say to you that
this generation shall not pass away
until all these things should happen.
Heaven and earth shall pass away,
but my words will not pass away.

The times and seasons.

1 Thessalonians 5.1. Matthew 24.36.
Περι δε των χρονων και των καιρων,
αδελφοι, ου χρειαν
εχετε υμιν γραφεσθαι.

But about the times and the seasons,
brethren, you have no need
for us to write.
Περι δε της ημερας εκεινης και ωρας
ουδεις οιδεν,
ουδε οι αγγελοι των ουρανων
ουδε ο υιος, ει μη ο πατηρ μονος.

But about that day and hour
no one knows,
neither the angels of the heavens
nor the son, except the father alone.

Peace and security.

1 Thessalonians 5.2-3; [4.15]. Matthew 24.37-41; {Luke 21.34};
[Matthew 24.8].
Αυτοι γαρ ακριβως οιδατε
οτι ημερα κυριου
ως κλεπτης εν νυκτι
ουτως ερχεται. 
οταν λεγωσιν· Ειρηνη και ασφαλεια,
τοτε αιφνιδιος αυτοις
εφισταται ολεθρος ωσπερ η ωδιν
τη εν γαστρι εχουση,
και ου μη εκφυγωσιν.
[...εις την παρουσιαν του κυριου....]   

For you yourselves know accurately
that the day of the Lord
will come thus,
as a thief in the night.
When they say: Peace and security,
then suddenly destruction
will come upon them like
the birth pang
upon a pregnant woman,
and they shall not escape.
[ the advent of the Lord....]
Ωσπερ γαρ αι ημεραι του Νωε,
ουτως εσται η παρουσια του υιου
του ανθρωπου.
ως γαρ ησαν εν ταις ημεραις
{...και επιστη εφ υμας αιφνιδιος
η ημερα εκεινη....}
[Παντα δε ταυτα αρχη ωδινων.]
ταις προ του κατακλυσμου
τρωγοντες και πινοντες,
γαμουντες και γαμιζοντες,
αχρι ης ημερας εισηλθεν Νωε
εις την κιβωτον, 
και ουκ εγνωσαν εως ηλθεν
ο κατακλυσμος και ηρεν απαντας,
ουτως εσται η παρουσια του υιου
του ανθρωπου.
τοτε δυο εσονται εν τω αγρω,
εις παραλαμβανεται και εις αφιεται, 
δυο αληθουσαι εν τω μυλω,
μια παραλαμβανεται και μια αφιεται.

For just as the days of Noah,
so will be the advent of the son
of man.
For as they were in the days
{...and that day come suddenly
upon you}
[But all these things are
the beginning of birth pangs.]
before the cataclysm
eating and drinking,
marrying and giving in marriage
until the day in which Noah entered
into the ark,
and they did not know until
the cataclysm came and took them all,
so will be the advent of the son
of man.
Then two men will be in the field.
One is taken, the other left.
Two women will be grinding in the mill.
One is taken, the other left.

Darkness and light.

1 Thessalonians 5.4-7. Matthew 24.42-51; {Mark 13.36}.
Υμεις δε, αδελφοι, ουκ εστε εν σκοτει,
ινα η ημερα υμας ως κλεπτης καταλαβη,
παντες γαρ υμεις υιοι φωτος εστε
και υιοι ημερας.
ουκ εσμεν νυκτος ουδε σκοτους·
αρα ουν μη καθευδωμεν ως οι λοιποι,
αλλα γρηγορωμεν και νηφωμεν.
οι γαρ καθευδοντες νυκτος
και οι μεθυσκομενοι νυκτος 

But you, brethren, are not in darkness
that the day should overtake you like a thief.
For you are all sons of light
and sons of day.
You are not of night, not of darkness.
So then let us not sleep as the rest,
but let us be awake and sober.
For those who sleep sleep at night,
and those who get drunk get drunk at night.
Γρηγορειτε ουν,
οτι ουκ οιδατε ποια ημερα
ο κυριος υμων ερχεται.
{...μη ελθων εξαιφνης ευρη
υμας καθευδοντας....}
εκεινο δε γινωσκετε οτι ει ηδει
ο οικοδεσποτης ποια φυλακη
ο κλεπτης ερχεται,
εγρηγορησεν αν και ουκ αν ειασεν
διορυχθηναι την οικιαν αυτου.
δια τουτο και υμεις γινεσθε ετοιμοι,
οτι η ου δοκειτε ωρα
ο υιος του ανθρωπου ερχεται.
Τις αρα εστιν ο πιστος δουλος
και φρονιμος ον κατεστησεν ο κυριος
επι της οικετειας αυτου του δουναι
αυτοις την τροφην εν καιρω;
μακαριος ο δουλος εκεινος ον ελθων
ο κυριος αυτου ευρησει ουτως ποιουντα.
αμην λεγω υμιν οτι επι πασιν τοις
υπαρχουσιν αυτου καταστησει αυτον.
εαν δε ειπη ο κακος δουλος εκεινος
εν τη καρδια αυτου·
Χρονιζει μου ο κυριος, και αρξηται
τυπτειν τους συνδουλους αυτου,
εσθιη δε και πινη 
μετα των μεθυοντων,
ηξει ο κυριος του δουλου εκεινου
εν ημερα η ου προσδοκα
και εν ωρα η ου γινωσκει,
και διχοτομησει αυτον και το μερος
αυτου μετα των υποκριτων θησει·
εκει εσται ο κλαυθμος
και ο βρυγμος των οδοντων. 

So be awake,
because you do not know which day
your Lord is coming.
{...lest coming of a sudden he should find
you sleeping....}
But know this, that if
the head of the house had known on which watch
the thief was coming,
he would have been awake and would not have allowed
his house to be penetrated.
On this account you, too, be ready,
because the son of man is coming
at an hour when you do not suppose.
Who then is the servant faithful
and wise whom the lord set
over his household to give
them their food on time?
Blessed is that servant whom his lord
finds so doing when he comes.
Amen, I say to you that he will put him
over all his possessions.
But if that wicked servant should say
in his heart:
My lord delays, and should begin
to beat his fellow servants,
and should eat and drink with the drunkards,
the lord of that servant shall come
on a day that he does not expect,
and at an hour which he does not know,
and shall cut him up, and his portion
he shall assign with the hypocrites.
There shall be weeping
and gnashing of teeth there.


1 Thessalonians 5.8-11. Matthew; {Daniel 12.2a LXX}.
Ημεις δε ημερας οντες νηφωμεν,
ενδυσαμενοι θωρακα πιστεως και αγαπης
και περικεφαλαιαν ελπιδα σωτηριας·
οτι ουκ εθετο ημας ο θεος εις οργην
αλλα εις περιποιησιν σωτηριας
δια του κυριου ημων Ιησου Χριστου,
του αποθανοντος υπερ ημων
ινα ειτε γρηγορωμεν ειτε καθευδωμεν
αμα συν αυτω ζησωμεν.
Διο παρακαλειτε αλληλους
και οικοδομειτε εις τον ενα,
καθως και ποιειτε.

But, since we are of the day, let us be sober,
having put on the breastplate of faith and love
and the hope of salvation as a helmet,
because God did not set us for wrath,
but for obtaining salvation
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who died for us
so that whether we are awake or asleep
we might live together with him.
Therefore comfort each other
and build one another up,
just as you are also doing.

{Και πολλοι των καθευδοντων
εν γης χωματι εξεγερθησονται....}  

{And many of those who sleep
in the dust of the earth shall be raised up....}

The resurrection in this passage parallels that in the Didache, in the apocalyptic passage that closes the book in 16.1-8.