Florence M. GILLMAN. 1 Thessalonians; Mary Ann Beavis and HyeRan Kim-Cragg. 2 Thessalonians: Wisdom Commentary. Volume 52, Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press (Michael Glazier Book), 2016. Pp 210, $39.95 Hardcover. ISBN 9780814682012; ISBN 9780814682256. Reviewed by James ZEITZ, Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio, Texas 48207.


            Both of these commentaries (separate authors for 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians) provide the reader with new ideas and insights about 1-2 Thessalonians in connection with the feminist approach to Scripture of the Wisdom series—that includes various methodologies and even Art and Poetry (the “Art” part is projected for a web version).      Acknowledging, for example, that Paul—in 1 Thessalonians—probably addressed the men of the community, author Gillman creatively and usefully expands the scope of her commentary by filling in religious background of the city (named after a woman: Thessaly), which was prominent within the Roman Empire in cults of female deities (Demeter and Isis)—cults that undoubtedly involved women. These same women, now wives of Christian men, are indirectly part of the audience Paul addresses in the letter written less than a year after he had founded the church to exhort the community to maintain its faith as a minority group.

The women co-authors of the commentary on 2 Thessalonians introduce positive and negative aspects of the letter’s notorious Antichrist (or “lawless one”) and the role of suffering. Positively, an Afterword: Finding hope in 2 Thessalonians, explains that the Korean rendering of “lawless one” is “son,” and the Inclusive Bible’s interpretation is “the lost one” – a translation which is now resonant with the lost son in Luke’s parable. Negatively, the letter’s exhortation to resist lawlessness already at work—though restrained until the revelation of Lord Jesus (2 Thess. 7f.)—is interpreted (using Isa 66:7-9: “Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son...”) as similar to Christian women’s birth pangs. This suffering also relates to the contemporary situation of Christians. See the box: Filipina perspective on “Resilience and Faith.”

Each of the two commentaries begins with a helpful Introduction to situate the letter and the community historically and introduce the main topics that will be treated: “Context and Musing about Women and Thessalonica” (1 Thessalonians). Then for 2 Thessalonians: see “Feminism, Apocalyptic, and 2 Thessalonians.” The authors also claim that this is the first complete feminist commentary on the letters.

For 1 Thessalonians I found Florence Gillman’s summary of “Famous Women entwined with Thessalonica’s Greco-Roman History” very readable and helpful for understanding Paul’s mission to Thessalonica (apart from what we learn from Acts 17).

For 2 Thessalonians, Beaves/ Kim-Cragg’s clarifications about “Feminism and Apocalyptic” introduce Hildegard of Bingen’s visions as another view of the apocalyptic scenario in 2 Thess. 2. For Hildegard the depiction of a violent and apocalyptic portrayal of the Antichrist can also be a “poignant and astute critique of the church.”

As critical biblical scholarship on 1-2 Thessalonians: there are helpful notes on problematic words (e.g. skeuos in 1 Thess. 4:3-4). “Abstain from fornication (v.3) and “control your own body/vessel” (NAB: “guarding his member”…See another translation of v.4: “that each of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor.”). There are also excellent analogies: e.g. to understand Paul’s thinking in exhorting the Thessalonians to maintain their faith in Christ, Gillman claims Paul’s turning to Christ from Pharisaic Judaism helped him exhort the Thessalonians’ converted to Christ from paganism. Other suggestions are more speculative: such as Gillman’s commentary on the Parousia. The Parousia in 1 Thess. 4:13, she explains is parallel to an ‘imperial’ processions into Thessalonica. Before entering the city, the Emperor would pass a cemetery outside the city walls—with graves of prominent citizens. For the Thessalonian Christians the eschatological parousia of Christ for them: “those who are alive” (4:15) is preceded by the dead in Christ who will be first (4:16): and they included numerous non-elite: infants and women who died in childbirth, impoverished non-elites.

            Overall this is an important summary of feminist contributions to the interpretation of 1-2 Thessalonians. It will be useful not only for teachers of the Bible but for women groups in the churches today.