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January 1972 · Vol. 1 No. 1 · pp. 36–37 

Book Review

The Thessalonian Epistles

D. Edmond Hiebert. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1971. 383 pages.

Reviewed by David Ewert

Dr. D. Edmond Hiebert, who teaches New Testament at the Mennonite Brethren Seminary at Fresno, has done our Brotherhood an honor with his commentary on the Thessalonian Epistles. Moody Press has done the Christian cause as a whole a service by publishing Hiebert’s commentary in an attractive, readable form. This is not the first volume of Hiebert’s writings that Moody Press has put on the market. Almost 20 years ago Hiebert published his Introduction to the Pauline Epistles—a work which was greeted with considerable enthusiasm. Those reading the “Introduction” to the Thessalonian Epistles will be reminded of this earlier work.

Hiebert’s commentary on the Thessalonian Letters is a careful verse-by-verse (and frequently word-by-word) explanation of the Greek text of the letters. However, he writes for the non-Greek reader. The English text is quoted by short paragraphs, and all Greek words are transliterated. The author’s gift for outlining epistolary material is well-known by those who have read his earlier volume on the Pauline Epistles. Although he has chosen to quote the English text of the American Standard Version (1901), Hiebert is not bound by any single English version. At several places the manuscript evidence is carefully weighed in an attempt to establish the best reading of the Greek text. However, one wonders about the wisdom of devoting three and one-half pages to the question of whether we should read epios or nepios in 1 Thess. 2:7.

While it is imperative in all exegetical work to study the meanings of words carefully, one has the feeling (at times) that Hiebert expands the commentary unduly by such rather extensive excursions. This holds true for exegetical problems, too. Three pages are devoted to the question of whether we should translate the word ‘vessel’, in 1 Thess. 4:4, by ‘wife’ or ‘body’. Perhaps I should say that I have a little difficulty with the author’s reasoning at this point. E.g. “If vessel means wife then Paul in this verse would be forbidding celibacy altogether” (p. 168). It would seem to me that the verse can hardly be read to mean that Paul is commanding ‘each man’ to get married. The growth of the commentary to 383 pages is due largely to the fact that our author quotes so many authorities. At times one would have preferred if Hiebert had stuck out his own neck a little more. For example, in his exegesis of 1 Thess. 5:26, “Salute all the brethren with a holy kiss,” we are given the possible meanings of the verse, but we are not told what to do with Paul’s command today.


There are relatively few places in the commentary where this reviewer would disagree with Hiebert. There is no need here to question his pre-millennialism (which comes out rather strongly in some places), although one has the feeling at times that an exegesis of the text doesn’t demand that it be mentioned in so many instances. I have some difficulty in following Hiebert’s reasoning when he says that if Paul had held that the believers were to endure the great tribulation, he could not have said that the Thessalonians were expectantly awaiting Christ’s return. Then, says Hiebert, Paul would have told them to brace themselves for the tribulation (p. 205). One may ask: “Is this not precisely what Paul does in 1 Thess. 3:2-4?” Also, I have serious reservations about identifying “the Restrainer,” who is to be taken out of the way, with the Holy Spirit (p. 313). Paul says that Christ will come “in the clouds,” and I have no difficulty with that. I have a little more difficulty with Hiebert’s comment: “That literal clouds are meant seems clear from Acts 1:9” (p. 201). And to say that we shall meet the Lord in the ‘atmosphere’ (p. 202), raises some questions about the use of apocalyptic language.

This reviewer has found only two typographical errors, both of them in the transliteration of Greek words: dai for dia (p. 193), and higiasai for hagiasai (p. 250).

As stated at the outset, Hiebert has done us a good service by giving us a fine commentary. One can only imagine the time and energy our author must have spent in order to make these old letters come alive.

D. Ewert
Professor, New Testament
MB Bible College, Winnipeg

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