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Bible Commentaries

Alford's Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

1 Thessalonians 5

Verse 1

1 .] On χρόν . and καιρ . , see Acts 1:7 , note. They had no need, for the reason stated below: that St. Paul had already by word of mouth taught them as much as could be known.

Verses 1-3

1 3 .] the suddenness and unexpectedness of that day’s coming .

Verses 1-11

1 11 .] Exhortation to watch for the day of the Lord’s coming, and to be ready for it .

Verses 1-24

CHAP. 1Th 4:1 to 1 Thessalonians 5:24 .] SECOND PORTION OF THE EPISTLE: consisting of exhortations and instructions .

Verse 2

2 .] [ ] ἡμέρα κυρίου is not the destruction of Jerusalem , as Hammond, Schöttg., al., nor the day of each man’s death , as Chrys., Œc., Thl., Lyr., al., but the day of the Lord’s coming , the παρουσία , which has been spoken of, in some of its details, above. So Thdrt. ἡ δεσποτικὴ παρονσία . This is plain, by comparing 2 Thessalonians 2:2 ; 1 Corinthians 1:8 ; 1 Corinthians 5:5 ; 2 Corinthians 1:14 ; Philippians 1:6 ; Philippians 1:10 ; Philippians 2:16 . It is both the suddenness, and the terribleness (surely we cannot with Ellic. omit this element, in the presence of the image in the next verse) of the Day’s coming, which is here dwelt on: cf. next verse.

οὕτως fills up the comparison as a thief in the night (comes), so … it comes (not for future, but expressing, as so often by the present, the absolute truth and certainty of that predicated it is its attribute, to come).

Verse 3

3 .] Following out of the comparison ὡς κλ . ἐν νυκτί , into detail.

λέγωσιν , viz. men in general the children of the world, as opposed to the people of God: cf. ὄλεθρος below. The vivid description dispenses with any copula.

εἰρ . κ . ἀσφ . , scil. ἐστιν , see ref. Ezek.

αἰφνίδ . has the emphasis, becoming a kind of predicate.

ἐφίσταται , generally used of any sudden unexpected appearance: see reff., and Acts 4:1 .

It is pressing too close the comparison ὥσπερ ἡ ὠδὶν κ . τ . λ ., when De W. says that it “assumes the day to be near , for that such a woman, though she does not know the day and the hour, yet has a definite knowledge of the period :” for it is not the woman, nor her condition, that is the subject of comparison, but the unexpected pang of labour which comes on her.

Verse 4

4 .] ἐν σκότει refers back to ἐν νυκτὶ above in the ignorance and moral slumber of the world which knows not God. τῷ παραβολικῷ ἐπέμεινε σχήματι , κ . σκότος μὲν καλεῖ τὴν ἄγνοιαν , ἡμέραν δὲ τὴν γνῶσιν , Thdrt. τὸν σκοτεινὸν κ . ἀκάθαρτον βίον φησί , Chrys. Both combined give the right meaning.

ἵνα ] not ‘ so that ,’ here or any where else: but that, in order that : it gives the purpose in the divine arrangement: for with God all results are purposed.

ἡ ἡμέρα ] not, ‘ that day,’ but the DAY the meaning of ἡμέρα as distinguished from σκότος being brought out, and ἡ ἡμέρα being put in the place of emphasis accordingly. This not having been seen, its situation was altered, to throw the first stress on ὑμᾶς , which properly has the second . That this is so, is plain from what follows, 1 Thessalonians 5:5 .

Verses 4-5

4, 5 .] But the Thessalonians, and Christians in general, are not to be thus overtaken by it.

Verse 5

5 .] You (a) and all we Christians (b) have no reason to fear, and no excuse for being surprised by, the DAY of the Lord; for we are sons of light and the day (Hebraisms, see reff.: signifying that we belong to , having our origin from, the light and the day), and are not of (do not supply ‘ sons ’ the genitives are in regular construction after ἐσμεν , signifying possession we belong not to ) night nor darkness . See, on the day of the Lord as connected with darkness and light, Amos 5:18 ff. There, its aspect to the ungodly is treated of: here, its aspect to Christians.

Verse 6

6 .] οἱ λοιποί i.e. the careless world.

Verses 6-8

6 8 .] Exhortation to behave as such : i.e. to watch and be sober ἐπίτασις ἐγρηγόρσεως τὸ νήφειν · ἔνι γὰρ καὶ ἐγρηγορέναι καὶ μηδὲν διαφέρειν καθεύδοντος , Œc. (after Chrys.)

Verse 7

7 .] Explanation of the assertion regarding οἱ λοιποί above from the common practice of men. There is no distinction, as Macknight pretends, between μεθυσκόμενοι and μεθύουσιν (‘the former denoting the act of getting drunk, the latter the state of being so’), but they are synonymous, answering to καθεύδοντες and καθεύδουσιν . Nor are the expressions to be taken in a spiritual sense, as Chrys., al. ( μέθην ἐνταῦθά φησιν , οὐ τὴν ἀπὸ τοῦ οἴνου μόνον , ἀλλὰ καὶ τὴν ἀπὸ πάντων τῶν κακῶν : ‘Spiritual sleep and intoxication belong to the state of darkness,’ Baum.-Crus.-): the repetition of the same verbs as subjects and predicates (Lün.) shews that νυκτός is merely a designation of time , and to be taken literally.

Verse 8

8 .] Contrast ( δέ ) of our course, who are of the day. And this not only in being awake and sober, but in being armed not only watchful, but as sentinels, on our guard, and guarded ourselves. Notice, that these arms are defensive only, as against a sudden attack and belong therefore not so much to the Christian’s conflict with evil, as (from the context) to his guard against being surprised by the day of the Lord as a thief in the night. The best defences against such a surprise are the three great Christian graces, Faith, Hope, Love, which are accordingly here enumerated: see ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:3 , and 1 Corinthians 13:13 . In Ephesians 6:13-17 , we have offensive as well as defensive weapons, and the symbolism is somewhat varied, the θώραξ being δικαιοσύνη , πίστις being the θυρεός ; while the helmet remains the same. See on the figure, Isaiah 59:17 ; Wis 5:17 ff. We must not perhaps press minutely the meaning of each part of the armour, in the presence of such variation in the two passages.

Verse 9

9 .] Epexegesis of ἐλπίδα σωτηρίας ‘and we may with confidence put on such an hope as our helmet’ for God set us not (‘appointed us not’ (reff.); keep the aorist meaning, referring to the time when He made the appointment) to (‘ with a view to ’ so as to issue in, become a prey to) wrath, but to acquisition ( περιποιέω , ‘ to make to remain over and above ,’ hence ‘ to keep safe :’ opp. to διαφθείρω , Herod. i. 110; vii. 52, &c. Thuc. iii. 102 (L. and S.). Hence περιποίησις , ‘ a keeping safe :’ Plato, Def. 415 C, σωτηρία , περιποίησις ἀβλαβής . If this last remarkable coincidence be taken as a key to our passage, σωτηρίας will be a genitive of apposition, ‘a keeping safe, consisting in salvation.’ But (reff.) it seems more according to the construction to understand περιπ . simply as acquisition , as it undoubtedly is in ref. 2 Thess. Jowett’s note, “ περιποιεῖν , to make any thing over: hence περιποίησις , possession,” if I understand it rightly, alleges a meaning of the verb which has no existence. ‘ To make to remain over ’ is as different as possible from ‘to make over (to another person)’) of salvation through ( διὰ refers to περιπ . σωτ . not to ἔθετο ) our Lord Jesus Christ ,

Verse 10

10 .] who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep (in what sense? surely not in an ethical sense, as above: for they who sleep will be overtaken by Him as a thief, and His day will be to them darkness, not light. If not in an ethical sense, it must be in that of living or dying , and the sense as Romans 14:8 . (For we cannot adopt the trifling sense given by Whitby, al., ‘whether He come in the night, and so find us taking our natural rest, or in the day when we are waking.’) Thus understood however, it will be at the sacrifice of perspicuity, seeing that γρηγορεῖν and καθεύδειν have been used ethically throughout the passage. If we wish to preserve the uniformity of metaphor, we may (though I am not satisfied with this) interpret in this sense: that our Lord died for us, that whether we watch (are of the number of the watchful, i.e. already Christians) or sleep (are of the number of the sleeping, i.e. unconverted) we should live, &c. Thus it would = ‘who died that all men might be saved:’ who came, not to call the righteous only, but sinners to life. There is to this interpretation the great objection that it confounds with the λοιποί , the ἡμᾶς who are definitely spoken of as set by God not to wrath but to περιποίησιν σωτηρίας . So that the sense live or die , must, I think, be accepted, and the want of perspicuity with it. The construction of a subjunctive with εἴτε … εἴτε is not classical: an optative is found in such cases, e.g. Xen. Anab. ii. 1. 14, καὶ εἴτε ἄλλο τι θέλοι χρῆσθαι εἴτ ʼ ἐπ ʼ Αἴγυπτον στρατεύειν .… See Winer, edn. 6, § 41, p. 263, Moulton’s Engl. transl. 368, note 2.

ἅμα ] all together: not to be taken with σύν , see reff.

Verse 11

11 .] Conclusion from the whole διό , ‘ quæ cum ita sint ’ since all this is so: or perhaps in literal strictness, as Ellic., quamobrem : which however is exceedingly close to the above meaning. παρακαλεῖτε , more naturally comfort , as in ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:18 , than ‘ exhort .’ For as Lün. remarks, the exhortation begun 1Th 5:6 has passed into consolation in 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 .

οἰκ . εἷς τὸν ἕνα ] edify the one the other: see ref.: and cf. (Kypke) Theocr. Idyl. xxii. 65, εἷς ἑνὶ χεῖρας ἄειρον Lucian, Asin. p. 169, ἐγὼ δὲ ἕν ʼ ἐξ ἑνὸς ἐπιτρέχων Arrian, Epict. i. 10, ἓν ἐξ ἑνὸς ἐπισεσώρευκεν .

Whitby, Rückert, al., would read εἰς τὸν ἕνα , and render ‘ edify yourselves into one body ’ (Whitb. εἰς ἕν ) or ‘ so as to shew the One, Christ, as your foundation , on whom the building should be raised’ (Rückert: but this should be ἐπὶ τῷ ἑνί ). The only allowable meaning of εἰς τὸν ἕνα would be, ‘ into the One ,’ viz., Christ, as in Ephesians 4:13 . But the use of τὸν ἕνα for Christ, with any further designation, would be harsh and unprecedented.

Verse 12

12 .] εἰδέναι in this sense is perhaps a Hebraism: the LXX (in ref. Prov.) express יָדַע by ἐπιγινώσκειν . The persons indicated by κοπιῶντας , προϊσταμένους , and νουθετοῦντας , are the same, viz. the πρεσβύτεροι or ἐπίσκοποι : see note on Acts 20:17 ; Acts 20:28 . ἐν ὑμ . is among you , not as Pelt, al. ‘(bestowing labour) on you.’

ἐν κυρίῳ , as the element in which, the matter with regard to which, their presidency takes place: = ‘in divine things:’ οὐκ ἐν τοῖς κοσμικοῖς , ἀλλ ʼ ἐν τοῖς κατὰ κύριον . Thl.

Verses 12-13

12, 13 .] In reference to their duties to the rulers of the church among them . The connexion ( δέ , a slight contrast with that which has just passed) is perhaps as Chrys., but somewhat too strongly ἐπειδὴ εἶπεν οἰκοδομεῖτε εἷς τὸν ἕνα , ἵνα μὴ νομίσωσιν ὅτι εἰς τὸ τῶν διδασκάλων ἀξίωμα αὐτοὺς ἀνήγαγε , τοῦτο ἐπήγαγε , μονονουχὶ λέγων , ὅτι κ . ὑμῖν ἐπέτρεψα οἰκοδομεῖν ἀλλήλους · οὐ γὰρ δυνατὸν πάντα τὸν διδάσκαλον εἰπεῖν . Rather, as the duty of comforting and building up one another has just been mentioned, the transition to those whose especial work this is, is easy, and one part of forwarding the work is the recognition and encouragement of them by the church.

Verses 12-24

12 24 .] Miscellaneous exhortations, ending with a solemn wish for their perfection in the day of Christ .

Verse 13

13 .] ἡγεῖσθαι ἐν ἀγάπῃ is an unusual expression for to esteem in love; for such seems to be its meaning. Lün. compares ἔχειν τινὰ ἐν ὀργῇ (Thuc. ii. 18). We have περὶ πολλοῦ ἡγεῖσθαι , Herod. ii. 115 ( Job 35:2 does not apply).

ὑπερεκπερισσῶς is best taken with ἐν ἀγάπῃ : it will not form a suitable qualification for ἡγεῖσθαι , which is merely a verbum medium. And so Chrys., all.

διὰ τὸ ἔργ . αὐτ . may mean, because of the nature of their work , viz. that it is the Lord’s work, for your souls: or, on account of their activity in their office , as a recompense for their work. Both these motives are combined in Hebrews 13:17 .

The reading εἰρηνεύετε ἐν αὐτοῖς (see var. readd.) can hardly mean, as Chrys., al., μὴ ἀντιλέγειν τοῖς παρ ʼ αὐτῶν λεγομένοις (Thdrt.), but is probably, as De W., a mistaken correction from imagining that this exhortation must refer to the presbyters as well as the preceding: whereas it seems only to be suggested by the foregoing, as enforcing peaceful and loving subordination without party strife: cf. ἀτάκτους below.

ἑαυτοῖς not = ἀλλήλοις (see ref. Col. and note there, and cf. Mar 9:50 ).

Verse 14

14 . ἀτάκτους ] This as ch. 1Th 4:11 , 2 Thessalonians 3:6 ; 2 Thessalonians 3:11 , certainly implies that there was reason to complain of this ἀταξία in the Thessalonian church. “ ἄτακτος is especially said of the soldier who does not remain in his rank: so inordinatus in Livy.” Lün.: hence disorderly .

ὀλιγοψύχους ] such e.g. as needed the comfort of ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:13 ff.

ἀντέχεσθε ] keep hold of (reff.) i.e. support .

οἱ ἀσθενεῖς must, be understood of the spiritually weak, not the literally sick: see reff.

πρὸς πάντας ] not, ‘all the foregoing’ ( ἀτάκτους , ὀλιγοψύχους , ἀσθενῶν ); but all men : cf. next verse.

Verses 14-22

14 22 .] General exhortations with regard to Christian duties . There appears no reason for regarding these verses as addressed to the presbyters, as Conybeare in his translation (after Chrys., Œc, Thl., Est., al.). They are for all : for each to interpret according to the sphere of his own duties. By the ἀδελφοί , he continues the same address as above. The attempt to give a stress to ὑμᾶς (‘you, brethren, I exhort,’ Conyb.) is objectionable: (1) because in that case the order of the words would be different ( ὑμᾶς δέ , ἀδ ., παρ ., or ὑμᾶς δέ παρ ., ἀδ .), (2) because the attention has been drawn off from οἱ προϊστάμενοι by εἰρηνεύετε ἐν ἑαυτοῖς intervening.

Verse 15

15 .] ὁρᾶτε μή gives a slight warning that the practice might creep on them unawares. It is not addressed to any particular section of the church, but to all; to each for himself, and the church for each.

Verse 16

16 .] Chrys. refers this to 1 Thessalonians 5:15 ; ὅταν γὰρ τοιαύτην ἔχωμεν ψυχὴν ὥστε μηδένα ἀμύνεσθαι , ἀλλὰ πάντας εὐεργετεῖν , πόθεν , εἰπέ μοι , τὸ τῆς λύπης κέντρον παρεισελθεῖν δυνήσεται ; ὁ γὰρ οὕτω χαίρων τῷ παθεῖν κακῶς , ὡς κ . εὐεργεσίαις ἀμύνεσθαι τὸν πεποιηκότα κακῶς , πόθεν δυνήσεται ἀνιαθῆναι λοιπόν ; But perhaps this is somewhat far-fetched. The connexion seems however to be justified as he proceeds: καὶ πῶς οἷόν τε τοῦτό , φησιν ; ἂν ἐθέλωμεν , δυνατόν . εἶτα καὶ τὴν ὁδὸν ἔδειξεν . ἀδιαλείπτως προσεύχεσθε κ . τ . λ . And Thl.: ὁ γὰρ ἐθισθεὶς ὁμιλεῖν τῷ θεῷ κ . εὐχαριστεῖν αὐτῷ ἐπὶ πᾶσιν ὡς συμφερόντως συμβαίνουσι , πρόδηλον ὅτι χαρὰν ἕξει διηνεκῆ .

Verse 17

17 .] See Chrys. and Thl. above.

προσεύχεσθε , not of the mere spirit of prayer, as Jowett: but, as in parallel, Ephesians 6:18 , of direct supplications to God. These may be unceasing, in the heart which is full of his presence and evermore communing with Him.

Verse 18

18 . ἐν παντί ] in every thing, every circumstance : see reff., and cf. ὑπὲρ πάντων , Ephesians 5:20 ; κατὰ πάντα , Colossians 3:22-23 . Chrys., al., explain it ‘ on every occasion ’ ( καιρῷ ); but 2 Corinthians 9:8 , ἐν παντὶ πάντοτε , precludes this. τοῦτο perhaps refers back to the three χαίρ ., προσεύχ ., εὐχαρ ., or perhaps, as Ellic. and most modern expositors, to εὐχαρ . alone.

After γάρ , supply ἐστίν , and understand θέλημα , not ‘ decree ,’ but will , in its practical reference to your conduct.

ἐν χρ . Ἰησ . ] in, as its medium; Christ being the Mediator.

Verse 19

19 .] Chrys., Thl., Œc, understand this ethically: σβέννυσι δ ʼ αὐτὸ βίος ἀκάθαρτος . But there can be no doubt that the supernatural agency of the Spirit is here alluded to, the speaking in tongues, &c., as in 1 Corinthians 12:7 ff. It is conceived of as a flame, which may be checked and quenched: hence the ζέων τῷ πνεύματι of Acts 18:25 , Romans 12:11 . The word is a common one with the later classics applied to wind : e.g. Plut. de Is. and Osir. p. 366 E, τὰ βόρεια πνεύματα κατασβεννύμενα κομιδῆ τῶν νοτίων ἐπικρατούντων . Galen, de Theriaca i. 17, uses the expression of the spirit of life in children: speaking of poison, he says, τὸ ἔμφυτον πνεῦμα ῥᾳδίως σβέννυσιν . See more examples in Wetst.

Verse 20

20 .] On προφητείας , see 1 Corinthians 12:10 , note. They were liable to be despised in comparison with the more evidently miraculous gift of tongues: and hence in 1 Corinthians 14:5 , &c., he takes pains to shew that prophecy was in reality the greater gift.

Verse 21

21 .] πάντα δὲ δοκιμάζετε refers back to the foregoing: but try all (such χαρίσματα ): see 1 Corinthians 12:10 ; 1 Corinthians 14:29 ; 1 John 4:1 .

τὸ καλὸν κατέχετε is best regarded as beginning a new sentence, and opposed to ἀπὸ παντ . εἴδ . κ . τ . λ . which follows: not however as disconnected from the preceding, but suggested by it. In this, and in all things, hold fast the good .

Verse 22

22 . ἀπὸ π . εἴδ . πον . ἀπέχ . ] These words cannot by any possibility be rendered as in E. V., ‘ abstain from all appearance of evil .’ For (1) εἶδος never signifies ‘ appearance ’ in this sense: (2) the two members of the sentence would thus not be logically correspondent, but a new idea would be introduced in the second which has no place in the context: for it is not against being deceived by false appearance , nor against giving occasion by behaviour which appears like evil, that he is cautioning them, but merely to distinguish and hold fast that which is good, and reject that which is evil. εἶδος is the species , as subordinated to the genus . So Porphyr. (in Lünem.) isagoge de quinque vocibus 2: λέγεται δὲ εἶδος καὶ τὸ ὑπὸ τὸ ἀποδοθέν γένος · καθ ʼ ὃ εἰώθαμεν λέγειν τὸν μὲν ἄνθρωπον εἶδος τοῦ ζώου , γένους ὄντος τοῦ ζώου · τὸ δὲ λευκὸν τοῦ χρώματος εἶδος · τὸ δὲ τρίγωνον τοῦ σχήματος εἶδος . And πονηροῦ is not an adjective, but a substantive: from every species (or form ) of evil . The objection which Bengel brings against this, ‘ species mali esset εἶδος τοῦ πονηροῦ ,’ is null, as such articles in construction are continually omitted, and especially when the genitive of construction is an abstract noun. Lün. quotes πρὸς διάκρισιν καλοῦ τε κ . κακοῦ , Hebrews 5:14 ; πᾶν εἶδος πονηρίας , Jos. Antt. x. 3. 1.

Verses 23-24

23, 24 .] αὐτὸς δέ contrast to all these feeble endeavours on your own part.

εἰρήνη here most probably in its wider sense, as the accomplishment of all these Christian graces, and result of the avoidance of all evil. It seems rather far-fetched to refer it back to 1 Thessalonians 5:13 .

ὁλοτελεῖς seems to refer to the entireness of sanctification, which is presently expressed in detail. Jerome, who treats at length of this passage, ad Hedibiam (ep. cxx.) quæst. xii., vol. i. p. 1004, explains it, ‘per omnia vel in omnibus, sive plenos et perfectos:’ and so Pelt, ‘ut fiatis integri:’ and the reviewer of Mr. Jowett in the Journal of S. Lit., April, 1856: ‘sanctify you (to be) entire.’ But I prefer the other interpretation: in which case it = ὅλους .

καί introduces the detailed expression of the same wish from the lower side in its effects.

ὁλόκληρον ] emphatic predicate, as its position before the article shews: entire refers to all three following substantives, though agreeing in gender with πνεῦμα , the nearest. Cf. besides reff., Leviticus 23:15 , ἑπτὰ ἑβδομάδας ὁλοκλήρους .

τὸ πν . κ . ἡ ψυχ . κ . τὸ σῶμα ] τὸ πνεῦμα is the SPIRIT, the highest and distinctive part of man, the immortal and responsible soul , in our common parlance: ἡ ψυχή is the lower or animal soul, containing the passions and desires ( αιτία κινήσεως ζωικῆς ζώων , Plato, Deff. p. 411), which we have in common with the brutes, but which in us is ennobled and drawn up by the πνεῦμα . That St. Paul had these distinctions in mind, is plain (against Jowett) from such places as 1 Corinthians 2:14 . The spirit, that part whereby we are receptive of the Holy Spirit of God, is, in the unspiritual man, crushed down and subordinated to the animal soul ( ψυχή ): he therefore is called ψυχικὸς πνεῦμα μὴ ἔχων , Jude 1:19 ; see also note on 1 Cor. as above.

ἀμέμπτως defines and fixes ὁλόκληρον τηρηθ .: that, as Ellic., regarding quantity, this defining quality.

ἐν , for it will be in that day that the result will be seen, that the ὁλοκληρον τηρηθῆναι will be accomplished.

Verse 24

24 .] Assurance from God’s faithfulness, that it will be so .

πιστός (reff.) true to His word and calling: ἀντὶ τοῦ ἀληθής , Thdrt.

ὁ καλῶν ] not = ὁ καλέσας , but bringing out God’s office, as the Caller of his people: cf. Galatians 5:8 .

ποιήσει , viz. that which was specified in the last verse.

Verse 25

25 .] Cf. Romans 15:30 ; Ephesians 6:19 ; Colossians 4:3 ; 2 Thessalonians 3:1 .

περί is not so definite as ὑπέρ pray concerning us make us the subject of your prayers our person our circumstances our apostolic work. Ellic. however remarks, that this distinction is precarious; and hardly appreciable.

Verses 25-28

25 28 .] CONCLUSION.

Verse 26

26 .] From this verse and the following, it would appear that this letter was given into the hands of the elders .

ἐν , simply ‘ in ,’ the kiss being the vehicle of the salutation: in our idiom, ‘ with .’

Verse 27

27 .] The meaning of this conjuration is, that an assembly of all the brethren should be held, and the Epistle then and there publicly read. The aorist, ἀναγνωσθῆναι , referring to a single act, shews this (but consult Ellic.’s note). On the construction τὸν κύρ . see reff. Jowett offers various solutions for the Apostle’s vehemence of language. I should account for it, not by supposing any distrust of the ciders, nor by the other hypotheses which he suggests, but by the earnestness of spirit incidental to the solemn conclusion of an Epistle of which he is conscious that it conveys to them the will and special word of the Lord.

πᾶσιν ] i.e. in Thessalonica, assembled together.

Verse 28

28 .] See on 2 Corinthians 13:13 .

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Alford, Henry. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5". Alford's Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. 1863-1878.