John Byron (Phd. Theology, University of Durham) is the Professor of New Testament at Ashland Theological Seminary. He is the author of Slavery Metaphors in Early Judaism and Pauline Christianity (Mohr Siebeck, 2003), Recent Research on Paul and Slavery (Sheffield Phoenix, 2008), as well as a number of scholarly articles. His more recent work has focuses on Jewish and Christian interpretations of the Cain and Abel story (Brill, 2011).
Dr. Byron is a sought-after teacher and enjoys using that gift at churches and seminars outside of his seminary position. He didn’t always aspire to become a teacher, however. In fact, if you had told him as a high schooler that he would become a professor, he would have run as fast as possible in the opposite direction. He considers it a blessing that God doesn’t let us see our future too early in the game!
Dr. Byron is an experienced traveler, counting Europe and the Middle East among his favorite destinations. By their 10th wedding anniversary, he and his wife, Lori, had already lived in three states and three countries. Adding to his travels, Dr. Byron participates in Ashland Theological Seminary’s Tel-Gezer project, through which groups from ATS tour Israel and excavate ancient sites.
1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians?
1 & 2 Thessalonians are the first two books I translated after learning Greek. After translating them I put together a notebook of exegetical observations based on the Greek text, which was the final project of my Greek exegesis course in seminary. When I began teaching Greek 15 years ago, I decided to continue the tradition. So when I went to write for the Story of God Bible Commentary (SGBC), the Thessalonian correspondence was a natural choice for me since I had already read and researched what quite a bit about the letters.
2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?
The SGBC series is aimed at pastors, students and the interested laity. Each section of the Thessalonian letters is broken into a 60/40 split. I spend 60% of each section explaining the background and exegesis of a passage and the other 40% explaining how the passage can be understood and applied in our current context. Although it does not focus on the Greek text, it does mention important aspects of Greek language when necessary. I require the book for my Greek students, along with a number of other standard works on 1 & 2 Thessalonians. The layout and presentation makes the book accessible and useful for those in ministry and seminary.
3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of 1 and 2 Thessalonians?
One aspect of the series is the desire to place the various books of the New Testament into the greater context of the biblical narrative. At the beginning of each section we work hard to demonstrate how the passage connects with the Old Testament and what God has done in the life of Israel and the Church throughout history. In reality, what we are doing is following a paradigm laid down by the early church known in Latin as the regula fidei, or the “Rule of Faith.” This way of reading and interpreting the scriptures insisted on understanding each portion of scripture within the wider context of all scripture. Thus with the SGBC, we are striving to do the same. Originally, the series was to be called Regula Fidei, but it soon became clear that many people are not familiar with the concept. So the series went with its current name.
4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?
I can’t say that any one section stands out since each section brought new insights to me. Although I had read and studied these letters for more than 20 years, that act of writing a commentary caused me to look at everything afresh and to become acquainted with Paul and the Thessalonians in new ways. But what I did enjoy, in particular, was thinking about and writing the applications sections, what we call “Living the Story.” When you know your audience, as in a church you preach at regularly or even in a seminary class, it’s a little easier to connect the dots between exegesis and application. But when you have no idea who will read your work and you want your work to be useful and edifying for many years, it can be both challenging and satisfying to find ways to apply the text for a contemporary setting.
5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?
I think the one point that I was reminded of was the centrality of the resurrection for Paul and the early church. Paul highlights it in 1 Thess 1:10 and again in 4:14. I was reminded that without the resurrection of Jesus we, as Paul says in 1 Cor 15, deserve to be pitied. There is much theology in the New Testament and all of it important. But it all hangs on the proclamation of who Jesus is and what God has done for us through Jesus.
6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on 1 and 2 Thessalonians?
There is so many I could choose from. For the Thessalonian letters I suggest Gordon Fee’s commentary (The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians, Eerdmans, 2009).
I just recently finished reading Michael J. Kruger’s Christianity at the Crossroads: How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church (IVP, 2018) and would highly recommend it. I would also recommend Larry Hurtado’s Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World (Baylor, 2016). I am doing some work on second and third century Christianity and these are both excellent resources.
7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?
As I mentioned above, I am doing some work on second and third century Christianity. This is because I am writing a commentary on the Apostles Creed for Smyth & Helwys. I am excited about the opportunity because it will allow me to bring together biblical scholarship with early church history. I am planning to help readers understand what stands behind each of the statements in the creed while helping them think about how they can apply the creed to their life.
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