1. 1 Thessalonians 1:8 (ESV)
  2. Exposition

Is it “the word of the Lord” or “the word about the Lord?

1 Thessalonians 1:8 (ESV)

8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.

This phrase is used only twice in Paul’s writings (here and 2 Thessalonians 3:1), but is fairly common in Acts (Acts 8:25; Acts 13:4, Acts 13:48–49; Acts 15:35–36; Acts 19:10) and abundant in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) (occurring about 250 times). In the Old Testament the phrase almost always means “the word from the Lord,” and is therefore quite common in the prophets. Here, however, it should be understood as “the word about the Lord,” meaning the word about what the Lord had done among the Thessalonians.1,2 There are at least three reasons for preferring this interpretation:

  1. Verse 8a is parallel to verse 8b, which says, Your faith in God has become known everywhere. This cannot be a statement about the Thessalonians proclaiming the gospel, but must be a statement about how the news of the Thessalonians’ faith had spread.

  2. If verses 8a and 8b would be asserting that the Thessalonians have been proclaiming the gospel, verse 8c would imply that Paul does not find it necessary to continue his own evangelistic activity in Greece and beyond because of the evangelism done by the Thessalonians.3 It is very difficult to believe that Paul, who considered himself obligated to both Greeks and non-Greeks (Romans 1:14), would ever make such a statement.

  3. It is arguable that in the book of Acts, the phrase the word of the Lord’ usually means “the word about the Lord Jesus, since the main focus of Acts is how the apostles testified about Jesus (Acts 1:8). Furthermore, the work of Jesus is not only understood as the work he did during his earthly life, but also the work he did through the apostles after his resurrection (e.g., Acts 1:1; Acts 18:9–10; Acts 23:11); this is a perspective that Paul shares (Romans 15:18; 1 Corinthians 15:10).

It is therefore quite natural to understand the word of the Lord in verse 8a as a reference to what the Lord Jesus did in bringing about the conversion of the Thessalonians, and this interpretation would make verse 8a correspond to verse 8b.