What We Believe

Beale, Commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians

Matthew E. Cotta

1-2 Thessalonians, by G. K. Beale. InterVarsity Press New Testament Commentary Series. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2003, 279 pages, $19.00.

If one hasn't yet experienced the blessing of being exposed to the writings of Dr. G. K. Beale,[1] his contribution to the IVP New Testament Commentary Series (edited by Grant R. Osborne) would be a great place to begin. Dr. Beale has proven himself to be a biblical scholar of no mean ability. His earlier study on the book of Revelation, published in 1998 as part of the New International Greek Testament Commentary series, has already established itself as the definitive commentary on that complex and often misinterpreted New Testament letter.[2]

Yet there are not perhaps many lay students of Scripture who would have the gumption to work through a manuscript as erudite and protracted as his treatment of Revelation (1245 pages!). By comparison, his 1-2 Thessalonians is a mere 279 pages; a more than manageable study. Furthermore, the IVPNTC series is, by design, a self-consciously user-friendly commentary series.

Thus, Dr. Beale's approach in this commentary is more pastoral in its mood and format in comparison with his earlier commentary. The overall design is not difficult to comprehend, and the exposition is straightforward. He makes use of numerous, albeit tight-leashed, illustrations throughout the exposition, illustrations that actually illuminate the text. The clear elucidation and well-structured arrangement lends itself well to personal or group study.

That being said, Dr. Beale remains who he is: an expert in Greek, a scholar thoroughly familiar with extra-biblical history and literature, and an astute biblical theologian who has a keen sense of the organic relationship between the Old and New Testaments. OPC readers can breathe a sigh of relief; in this case "user-friendly" does not equate with "dumbed-down."

Moreover, his starting point in approaching Paul's letters to the Thessalonians is on the mark. His introduction alone is worth the price of the book. In it he argues that one must approach 1-2 Thessalonians through the lens of an "already/not-yet" understanding of eschatology (amillennial),[3] taking fully into account the fact that the New Testament authors understood the last days as having begun with the first coming of Christ, and noting thus that "all doctrine in the New Testament is essentially eschatological in nature."[4]

His hermeneutical approach is informed by the realization that "all that the Old Testament foresaw would occur in the end times has begun already in the first coming and continues on into our present day."[5] He masterfully demonstrates the fulfillment of several key Old Testament passages in Christ and the church he built, and in good Vosian (and Pauline) fashion he points out that "although there are certainly differences in culture, language, and time, we do not live in an age radically different theologically from the Thessalonians."[6] As such, Beale has produced a commentary on the letters to the Thessalonians that is a refreshing departure from the liberal and broadly Evangelical approaches to the "end times."

In addition, his decidedly Reformed hermeneutic is buttressed by an overall Augustinian and Calvinistic consistency throughout his exposition. He even cites the Westminster Shorter Catechism on occasion. He does not shy away from or seek to tone down Paul's doctrine of election or free sovereign grace in salvation. Rather, he emphasizes it. As an example, he writes, "the fact that Paul thanks God, not the readers, for their election shows that they contributed nothing to accomplishing their own salvation but that they were objects of an unconditional divine act."[7]

Beale, with Calvin, lays much stress on the theology of "cross-bearing," "heavenly-mindedness," "union with Christ," and the preeminence of the sovereign glory of God in all things, and specifically on how these work themselves out in the Christian life. He blasts the "no-Lordship salvation" movement and offers several pointed and textually-based critiques on Arminianism, the modern church-growth movement, and the shallowness of American Evangelicalism in general.

Beale skillfully navigates the reader through several perennially perplexing questions such as, "Did Paul look for the Parousia in his lifetime?" "What was Paul's understanding of God's plan for the Jews?" etc. On the latter, again displaying his orthodox colors, he writes, "Since Jesus summed up true Israel in himself, the trials he endured began to fulfill the prophecy that Israel would suffer eschatological trial. Those who follow Jesus in the present age are 'in Messiah Jesus' (1 Thess. 2:14) and are identified with him as true Israel."[8]

One of the real drawbacks to this "user-friendly" commentary series is the fact that the exposition is primarily based on the New International Version of Scripture and its dynamic approach to translation, an approach not well suited to a careful, detailed study. However, Greek scholar that he is, Beale was able to overcome this, pointing out those several instances where the NIV bungled it, and offering his own translation or utilizing the New American Standard rendering instead.

In sum, this is a commentary well worth your money and time. It is a gem. Church officers as well as brand new babes in Christ will be edified in their use of it. It may not be everything an OPC student of Scripture would hope for (it could be more Christ-centered, more consistently semi-eschatological in terms of its approach and some of its conclusions), but I can say that, with respect to Paul's glorious letters to the Thessalonians, it will be the first commentary I will turn to and the first that I will recommend.


[1] One can view Dr. Beale's curriculum vitae at http://www.wheaton.edu/Theology/Faculty/beale/index.html.

[2] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, New International Greek Testament Commentary Series, ed. I. H. Marshall and D. Hagner (Grand Rapids, USA/Cambridge, England: Eerdmans and Carlisle: Paternoster, 1999).

[3] Beale, 1-2 Thessalonians, 13.

[4] Ibid., 19.

[5] Ibid., 20.

[6] Ibid., 48.

[7] Ibid., 50.

[8] Ibid., 98-99.

Matthew E. Cotta
Pastor, Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Hanover Park, Ill.

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Editorial: Membership Rolls and the Book of Life

Taking Care of Your Pastor

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Leading Congregational Prayer

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