Οἶδα in 1 Thessalonians

By Scott Severance Written: April 20, 2004

Biblical Studies Seminar, Southwestern Adventist University

Outline

  1. Introduction
  2. Basic Definition of Οἶδα
  3. Uses of Οἶδα in the New Testament
    1. Paul's Letters
    2. Other New Testament Writers
  4. Οἴδατε: What the Thessalonian Believers Knew
  5. Conclusion
  6. Appendix
  7. Bibliography
  8. Endnotes

Introduction

Paul uses οἶδα frequently in 1 Thessalonians, more frequently than in any other letter of his. In 2 Thessalonians, οἶδα is less prominent. In the Thessalonian letters, Paul employed οἴδατε to remind the Thessalonians of the things they already knew. In some cases, they had apparently forgotten, while in others, οἴδατε may be more of a literary device.

Basic Definition of Οἶδα

In its most basic definition, οἶδα (infinitive εἰδέναι) means to know or understand.[1] This is essentially the same as γινώσκω, although the later seems to carry a slightly broader range of meaning. It may be tempting to try to distinguish between οἶδα and γινώσκω, but in koinē Greek such a distinction is unjustified.[2]

While the basic definition of οἶδα is to know, Seesemann points out several specialized uses. Occasionally, οἶδα is used in the sense of knowing a person, though this is not the usual meaning of the word. Sometimes it means the "ability to understand," and in a few instances it can mean "to recognize" or respect (such is the use in 1 Thessalonians 5:12: ἐρωτῶμεν δὲ ὑμᾶς . . . εἰδέναι τοὺς κοπιῶντας).[3]

Uses of Οἶδα in the New Testament

Paul's Letters

Paul seems to prefer οἶδα over γινώσκω in his letters, especially when referring to knowledge. In Paul's letters, the NIV translates γινώσκω with quite a variety of words, indicating a broad range of uses. But the verb "to know" in the NIV usually translates οἶδα.[4]

In 1 Thessalonians, Paul uses οἶδα more frequently than anywhere else: 13 times in a book of five chapters. He uses γινώσκω only once. This can be explained largely by Paul's emphasis on what the Thessalonians already knew.

Other New Testament Writers

Most of the New Testament authors prefer γινώσκω over οἶδα. The only writer to place a major emphasis on οἶδα/γινώσκω besides Paul is John. He uses both words frequently, especially in his gospel and in 1 John. In John's gospel, οἶδα is more frequent, while in 1 John, γινώσκω predominates. These words occur with greater density in John's writings than in Paul's.

Οἴδατε: What the Thessalonian Believers Knew

With the background above, we will now turn to what the Thessalonian believers knew, as reported in 1 Thessalonians. This will tell us some of the things Paul taught the believers during his abbreviated visit to Thessalonica. It will indicate some of his priorities.

Nine times in 1 Thessalonians Paul uses the present active indicative second person plural form of οἶδα, οἴδατε.[5] What did the Thessalonians know?

In 1 Thessalonians 1:5, Paul says, "You know how we lived among you for your sake."[6] Paul and company lived as examples to the Thessalonians. Not only did they tell the Thessalonians what Christianity was all about, they showed them. The message was presented "not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction" (v. 5). This caused the Thessalonians to become "imitators" (v. 6) of the missionaries and—by imitating them—Jesus.

The missionaries' visit to Thessalonica was "not a failure" (1 Thessalonians 2:1), and the Thessalonians knew that, as well. It was successful for the same reason: how the apostles lived—in spite of persecution (v. 2). While some of the Thessalonians criticized his mission, Paul reminded the believers that they knew the truth about those allegations (vv. 5, 11).

The first major thing that the Thessalonians knew, then, was how the apostles behaved. Perhaps one of the earliest things people know about Christianity when they come into contact with Christians is how they act. If Christians live like Paul and his companions, they will have a positive impact that will survive criticism. But if Christians do not live Christ-like lives, one of the things non-Christians can now for sure is eroded.

First Thessalonians 3:3, 4 tell us that the Thessalonian believers knew that Paul and company would be persecuted. This should be no surprise; they had just been forced out of Philippi before arriving in Thessalonica, then they had to leave Thessalonica prematurely because of further persecution. It is safe to assume that the Thessalonian believers knew they would be persecuted as well.

Today Christianity is sometimes portrayed as a magic potion that will fix all problems. But persecution is real, in whatever form it occurs. So this is a reality the Thessalonian believers knew before Paul left them. We must not allow a magic potion mentality to block out reality. We need to make sure new Christians are prepared to deal with persecution.

Paul "instructed you [the Thessalonians] how to live in order to please God" (1 Thessalonians 4:1), and the Thessalonians knew those instructions, which were given "by the authority of the Lord Jesus" (v. 2). And since they did not always follow the instructions given to them, Paul uses some strong language in reminding them. Frequently in Adventist circles, evangelists and those giving Bible studies focus on an understanding of the truth as it is in scripture. But too often this message is lacking in practical application. The Thessalonians knew how they were supposed to live, but the same is not true for all Christians today. Maybe we need to shift our evangelistic priorities to place the practical at the forefront.

The Thessalonians knew "very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night" (1 Thessalonians 5:2). Early on, Paul instructed the believers about eschatology. Eschatology provides an excellent framework for teaching the rest of Christianity, because it provides hope, purpose, and mission. We must not abandon eschatology.[7]

Conclusion

There is much more depth that could be explored. Hopefully this paper has broken the ground and uncovered some areas that must be a part of our evangelism. A detailed examination of 2 Thessalonians would be helpful, as would a more thorough comparison between οἶδα and γινώσκω. I suppose that will have to wait for another time.

Appendix

Partial list of occurrences of οἶδα in:

† Uses the form οἴδατε

‡ Uses the form εἰδέναι

* Uses both οἴδαμεν and εἰδέναι

Bibliography

Brown, Colin, ed. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971.

Kohlenberger, John R., III, Edward W. Goodrick, and James A. Swanson. The Greek English Concordance to the New Testament: With the New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997.

Newman, Barclay M., Jr. "A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament" in The Greek New Testament, 4th rev. ed. Ed. by Barbara Aland et al. Stuttgart: United Bible Societies, 2001.

Seesemann, Heinrich. "οἶδα." In Gerhard Friedrich, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 5. Translated by Geoffrey W. Bromily. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967.

Endnotes

  1. Barclay M. Newman, Jr., "A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament" in The Greek New Testament, fourth revised edition, edited by Barbara Aland et al. (Stuttgart: United Bible Societies, 2001).
  2. Heinrich Seesemann, "οἶδα," in Gerhard Friedrich, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 5, translated by Geoffrey W. Bromily (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967) p. 116. Seesemann provides a number of examples where, in parallel passages, one uses οἶδα while the other uses γινώσκω. The two words are so similar, that The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, volume 2, edited by Colin Brown (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971) only mentions οἶδα in passing, preferring to focus on γινώσκω. What discussion there is of οἶδα is mainly in the article on γινώσκω (pp. 391–406).
  3. Seesemann, p. 117.
  4. See John R. Kohlenberger III, Edward W. Goodrick, and James A. Swanson, The Greek English Concordance to the New Testament: With the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), under the entries γινώσκω and οἶδα.
  5. Technically, οἴδατε is in the perfect tense, but since it always functions as if it were present, I have parsed it as such.
  6. All English scripture quotations are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.
  7. There is no indication that Paul spent a great deal of time on such subjects as a Sunday law or the mark of the beast. While those subjects clearly were not applicable to first century Christians, we should notice that such subjects are not the major focus of eschatology; redemption is.