A New Version of Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians in Asp’s Suggested Paraphrase (ASP)

It took me almost a year to finish my personal translation, or paraphrase, of the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. In the first four-and-a-half months of 2020, however, I’ve already managed to complete first-draft translations of three other books from the New Testament! That’s partly because I’m getting better at translation from Greek to English (“Practice makes Perfect”). But it’s also because I’ve been stuck at home, with more time to work on translation projects, throughout the COVID-19 shut-down.

Generally speaking, I’ve been trying to follow along with H2O Kent’s teaching series this year (as long as we’re in the New Testament, where Koine Greek served as the original language). My translation of Titus lagged a little behind our actual teaching series — through February and March — and there’s still some work to be done to polish it up and get it ready for other eyes to see. I managed to hang with our study of Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians in April and May, even though some days it took me two or three hours of study. But still, those first-draft translations needed some quality control after the fact.

Now, however, I feel like my translation of Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians is ready for others to read and consider.

As with my earlier translation work, I’m calling this project Asp’s Suggested Paraphrase — or “The ASP” or short. I know that it’s a bit vain and silly, but I figured it would be helpful and fun to have a handle for my work. I want to see the project continue to grow in the years to come, as I follow a similar process of discovery for other books of the Bible. But it’s really, primarily, for my own study and enjoyment. As noted previously: I went with the “P” instead of the “V” — a “Paraphrase” instead of a “Version” — because, well, it created a better acronym and because it seems like a more humble and realistic assessment of what I’m really doing.

I followed the same process for 1 Thessalonians that I followed for Philippians: starting with the original text in Greek… using study resources to fill in the gaps in my knowledge… and establishing a literal translation that didn’t read very smoothly. After that, I would create my own idiomatic translation (or paraphrase) of the text, often while referencing other translations. I leaned especially on the English Standard Version, the New Living Translation, and the New International Version. To further polish my first-draft translation, I compared my translation with several other translations including the King James Version, the Holman Christian Standard Bible, The Voice, The Message, and the (Dutch) Nieuwe Bijbel Vertaling. And after one final reading, out-loud, to check for readability and cadence, I created a time-stamped PDF to share with others.

My ASP is not perfect. In fact, I reserve the right to edit, update, and amend my version of 1 Thessalonians as my knowledge of Greek, my relationship with God, and my general life of faith might dictate in the years to come. But for whatever it’s worth, you are welcome to download this version of 1 Thessalonians (or “To the Thessalonians A,” as it’s literally named in the Greek), for your own study and enjoyment:

For those who might be interested in more of the minutiae of what I learned in the process of translation, here are some things I noticed about 1 Thessalonians along the way:

  • As with the Book of Philippians, he Apostle Paul loved to write really long sentences! In translating these long sentences, there’s a challenge: Either (1) Deal with extra-long, unwieldy, sections of prose that can be confusing for the modern English reader — all for the sake of more faithfully and literally representing the original Greek version; or (2) Use punctuation (and some extra filler words), and break up the sentences to enhance clarity — while also, admittedly, introducing more subjectivity to the translation. I probably tended more towards breaking up the long sentences, but that was easier to do in some cases than in others.
  • I stuck with my previous decision to consistently translate the Greek second person plural as “You guys” instead of the simpler “You.” I liked the fact that this translation is true to the colloquial speech patterns of the United States Midwest. But the real reason why I made that choice is to emphasize the communal nature of the Christian experience, instead of feeding into an individualized reading of Scripture. 21st Century American society is one of the most individualistic societies in history. Clearly more so than ancient Thessalonica. So I like the way that “you guys” communicates the fact that the letter was addressed to a group, not an individual. It may make things sound a bit less formal. But it’s not taking any liberties in terms of the way the original Greek words were intended to define their audience.
  • Translators have been struggling for the last fifty years to deal with the Greek preference to default to masculine pronouns for groups of people which may or may not have been mixed with men and women. It’s hard to make a translation decision on this one without feeling political. I decided to go with “Our dear family of faith” instead of “Brothers” (ἀδελφοί), just because I feel like that captures some of the tone of the original Greek, without making a gender-specific choice. It gets clunky, I know. And it is not a literal translation. But I think it’s a useful equivalent.
  • I’ve haven’t spent as much time in 1 Thessalonians as I have with other parts of the New Testament, but I’d guess I’ve still read through it dozens of times. This time through, however, one thing that really stuck out to me through this translation project (and the deliberate isolation because of COVID-19) was the theme of togetherness in the midst of separation that weaves in and out of the whole letter. Paul and his team talk about the way that this informs their everyday choices, as well as their long-term hope for the Day of the Lord. It feels highly relevant for 2020!

Anyway, I’d love to hear any reflections you might have, if you give the ASP a read. Whether you’re a Greek expert or not, I really believe it will be helpful to get other perspectives. But for those who might prefer some selected highlights from my Asp’s Suggested Paraphrase, I’ll share a couple of my favorite verses in my personal translation:

  • 1 Thessalonians 1:7-10 (ASP) – “You guys have become an example to all the believers in northern Greece and in southern Greece. So the word of the Lord is ringing out — not just throughout all of Greece, but all over the place. Your faith has gone viral; we’re not the ones controlling the message any more. Other people are telling us about the legendary hospitality you extended to us. They’re telling us about the way you all changed your ways: serving the true and living God now, instead of idols. And they’re telling us to wait expectantly for the Son of God from the heavens — Jesus — whom he raised from the dead to bring deliverance from the coming Day of Judgment.”
  • 1 Thessalonians 3:6-8 (ASP) – “But now that Timothy has come to us after being with you guys — and he’s brought good news about your faith and your love, saying that you guys think so fondly of us all the time — it sounds like you guys long to see us just as much as we long to see you guys. This brings us so much comfort, our dear family of faith — to get through all our struggles and distress — knowing that you guys are holding onto faith. Standing strong in the Lord, even! This breathes new life into us.”
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8 (ASP) – “So seriously, let’s not let ourselves drift off to sleep like everybody else — but let’s keep alert with our eyes open and sharp. For sleepy people like to sleep at night, and boozy people like to booze at night. But those of us who belong to the day ought to stay alert, wearing the armor of faith and love and the helmet of hope in salvation.”

All right. Enough commentary. Enough hemming and hawing. My translation is not perfect. And remember: I reserve the right to edit, update, and amend my version of 1 Thessalonians, as my knowledge of Greek, my relationship with God, and my general life of faith might dictate in the years to come. But now it’s out there. And may God bless the reading of His Word!

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