In Everything Give Thanks
Nov 30, 2009 by Craig Blomberg | 2 Comments
“In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God, in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thess. 5:18 KJV)
Every other one of my blogs has begun with a New Testament quotation from the TNIV. For my Thanksgiving 2009 blog, I have chosen as my headline the KJV, not because it is the best translation here, but because it is the way many people know the verse. I learned it in this version because there was a popular Christian chorus when I was a young adult that used this wording.
As one scans the major contemporary English translations, one discovers three main approaches to this verse. First, some preserve basically the KJV wording (most notably the NKJV, HCSB, NASB and NET), which is one literal rendering of the Greek en (which can mean “in,” “on,” “at,” “to,” “for,” “with” or “by” depending on the context) plus the dative panti (meaning either “everything” or “every person”). But it leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Is Paul subtly saying actually to give thanks for everything, even evil? Is “everything” to be qualified in some way? Or is there some other insight we are missing to be sure we are making sense of Paul?
A second option answers my first question above with an unambiguous “yes.” The New Jerusalem Bible explicitly reads, “and for all things give thanks.” But no other Bible verse ever sanctions giving thanks for the devil, or his minions, or the evil that results on earth because of the Fall that he precipitated. God’s Word to the Nations reads “Whatever happens, give thanks,” which may not be intended to mean what the NJB says, but could certainly be taken that way.
The third and best option is that followed by the ESV, NAB, NIV, NLT, NRSV and TNIV: we are called to give thanks “in all circumstances.” The neuter plural regularly has that meaning in a variety of Greek contexts, including a variety of New Testament ones. This is consistent with the best rendering of Romans 8:28 that God works “in all things” for the good of those who love him. God does not cause evil (Jas. 1:13) nor does he merely respond to it by countering it with something good but is working in the very same events that create evil, sometimes by evil people, for good ends (Gen. 50:20).
In this vein, what am I thankful for this Thanksgiving season. My list will inevitably be very partial. I am thankful for salvation in the midst of a fallen world. I am thankful for a wonderful family, a wife and two daughters who love Jesus, are engaged in meaningful work and service for him even if this will be the first Christmas in twenty-three years that our older daughter will not be with us (but with her English husband’s family south of London). I am grateful for incredibly rewarding, challenging and meaningful work at Denver Seminary and everything else that is related to being a New Testament professor, even if the full-time faculty numbers (20 for barely 400 students when I came in 1986) have barely risen at all while the student body has more than doubled (26 for 940 students today) and the work load grown commensurately. I am grateful for generally good health, and all the advances in modern medicine, so that I can look forward someday to a knee replacement rather than simply anticipate increased pain as arthritis sufferers did in past eras. I am grateful for so many wonderful friends, including many graduates who have kept in touch, even though I know a few who claim to have renounced their faith in favor of agnosticism or atheism, which grieves my heart terribly. And I am profoundly grateful for the immense freedom of religion we still have in this country and the huge percentage of evangelical Christians compared to most countries in the world, even if we don’t always appreciate the extent of our blessings or use our freedom in the most tactful, loving ways possible.
I wonder how many remember (or ever learned) Katherine Lee Bates’ second through fourth verses to “America the Beautiful,” including: “Oh beautiful for pilgrim feet whose stern, impassioned stress a thoroughfare of freedom beat across the wilderness. America, America, God mend thine every flaw. Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law,” “Oh beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life. America, America, May God thy gold refine till all success be nobleness and ever y gain divine,” and “Oh beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years. Thine alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears. America, America, God shed his grace on thee. And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.”
Appropriate thoughts indeed at this time of year.