2 Thessalonians 3:10: He who will not work will not eat


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I work, I just don’t get paid shit, hence this weeks bleg above, the smallest donation is gratefully appreciated. You may have heard of folks in Congress parroting those words in the title to justify cutting billions from food stamps. One of them is Stephen Fincher (R-Hypocrite) who somewhat started the practice back in May, and who incidentally received more than $70,000 in farm subsidies in 2012 alone and has racked up over $3 million in taxpayer loot in the last decade. He’s not alone on that score either, there are a dozen more lfundie House hypocrites on the dole just like him. Of course, most of those who receive food stamps or who are eligible do work or are children.

But does it even mean what the congressman thinks it does? Here’s some context

Link — 2 Thessalonians 3:6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.
2 Thessalonians 3:7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you,
2 Thessalonians 3:8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.
2 Thessalonians 3:10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”
2 Thessalonians 3:11 We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies.

There are many interpretations of this. Some of which go back to an obscure battle between those who really wish Paul was the Savoir and not hippy Jesus. But most agree that it was a specific recommendation to Christians by Paul in a specific location, some of whom were apparently running around sticking their noses in other people’s business all day long, causing arguments and other problems between members of the congregation, instead of just minding their own. It’s a practical solution by Paul to resolve a problem in a Christian community that was being taken advantage of by a few assholes; keep the gossiping busybodies working and they can’t plant rumor and fuel discord.

These people causing the problem had work available, they just blew it off because they liked playing the Machiavellian game. Back in those days, with no social media or Internet, no phones, not even mail, if you wanted to be an irritating social butterfly you had to spend hours trudging around from one farm or market to another to get the juiciest stuff and pass it on, leaving little time for your own house and work.

What’s important to under stand is working was secondary in this take, the main message is a warning. Something like this: ‘Yes, normally the Church and your Christian neighbors have an obligation to feed you. But if you keep this divisive shit up you’re gonna go hungry as a punishment, because I hereby relieve the local church and the entire community of its standard Christian obligation to help you out if you come up short, at least until you quiet down and get back to your own business’.

In that interp, it means almost the opposite of what the pastor clique in Congress would like it to mean. In fact it would apply to them as culprits much like those Paul was warning: as in if only those conservative clowns would keep their noses out of other people’s personal lives and private bedrooms, and instead follow their Christian obligation to help the poor and unemployed eat.

Here’s a more in depth explanation of what Paul was up to courtesy of a reader at Daily Kos:

In the previous chapter of his epistle, Paul warned about those who were teaching that the second coming was imminent (2 Thes. 2:2), and this had apparently misled some in Thessalonica into ceasing from earning a living, since they expected the Lord to return at any moment. Paul made it quite clear in chapter 2 that such teaching was in error, and he details events that must first take place before Christ could return (2 Thes. 2:3-12). This is why Paul did not live off the resources of the church in Thessalonica, because he was setting an example, to reinforce his teaching that the second coming was not near (v. 9 above).

Many verses are vague, they are subtle, and two millennia out of context, making them irresistible for past and present conman to seize on and cloak their own greed and exploitation in the words of the Bible. Thessalonians is no exception. This parable appears to be more about telling people not to run around scaring and annoying others in the church and then relying on the Christian tradition of charity when and if your crop yield or flock suffers as a result. And in fact Paul went on to politely pay for his food, even though by rights he could have eaten at the church for free, as an example to follow, sort of a ‘I don’t just talk the talk, I walk the walk’ kinda deal. But regardless, there is no doubt what the core principles of Jesus Christ were, he stated them very clearly, again and again and again: feed the hungry, help the poor, heal the sick, give your money away. Jesus was an upstart progressive, bordering on a full blown socialist, and as such, a bigger and bigger threat to the existing wealth centers of his ancient world as his influence grew.

That’s a big part of why he was sentenced to death by crucifixion. In that world, it’s hard to see how the wealthy Stephen Fincher analogue would have been one among the masses of oppressed people crying as Jesus was nailed to a cross. But he sure might have been among those lucky rich few relieved that the execution was carried out and the gruesome spectacle made public for all the riff-raff to see.



  1. says

    The rebuttal being:

    And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. — Acts 2:44-45

    Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common.

    And with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need. — Acts 4:32-35

    Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” — Matthew 19:21 (Similar sentiment at Mark 10:21 and Luke 18:22.)

    If you really want to see Talibangelical heads explode, show them where Marx’ “From each according to his means, to each according to his needs” comes from the example of the early church.

  2. smrnda says

    The other issue is this verse implies an unwillingness to work, not the inability to find work. In a low-tech economy, there’s always more work to do since all industries are very labor intensive. Our problem with unemployment is that we can produce more than anyone needs without requiring everyone to work at all.

  3. Francisco Bacopa says

    #2 is totally right, a low tech economy on the edge of scarcity can always absorb more labor. A high tech economy faces two problems. Inability to accumulate capital to muster the means of production and inadequate consumer demand to motivate those with capital to muster the means of production. There are a few places where the former is the problem. In most places the latter is the problem. Cash holdings are higher than they have ever been here in the US. But why should some rich dude tap that cash and be an awesome capitalist when he rightly believe believes he won’t get shit for doing so because no one can buy the awesome products he is thinking of making?

    My personal preference would be to tax some of that high end cash holdings and dump the money in infrastructure spending and investment in education. This would not only create jobs directly, it would prop up consumer demand which would make more big players kick out some money to try to make some money back off of that. Even better would be to throw in a total wild card like single-payer health care. Then even small-time folks might feel comfortable taking some risks.

    Capitalism is not really that bad. it just needs some regulation and nudging to keep from turning into feudalism.

  4. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    2 Thessalonians 3:10: He who will not work will not eat

    A bit rough on new born babes that ain’t it?

    Surely implies not feeding children (they don’t work) and thus starving them to death and thus human extinction.

    Also do we really call what priests do “working” eh? Ditto aristocrats and kings.

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