183. God’s ‘Direction’: (kateuthunō) in Paul’s Ministry (2 Thessalonians 3:5)

The verb kateuthunō occurs three times in the New Testament, used by two different writers: Luke (1:79) and Paul (1 Thessalonians 3:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:5). It has extensive usage both in Classical Greek authors, as well as the Greek Old Testament and Apocryphal texts. Its use in the New Testament follows this prior usage. This is a compound verb related to the simple verb form euthunō “cause something to be in a straight or direct line, keep something on course” (BDAG, 406). James 3:4 uses euthunō to describe the actions of a ship’s pilot. John employs it in his quote from Isaiah 40:3 in which he describes John the Baptist’s role to “make straight the way of the Lord” (1:23).

Paul uses it twice in two of his earliest letters. In both contexts Paul chooses a third person singular aorist optative form (kateuthunai) to express a wish.  The subject in 1 Thessalonians 3:11 is “God our Father and our Lord Jesus,” but in 2 Thessalonians 3:5 it is the Lord (ho kurios). Optative forms occur proportionately more frequently in these two Pauline letters than in Paul’s other letters. When a verb has two subjects, as in 1 Thessalonians 3:11, the verb may be singular (as also in James 5:3; Matthew 6:19; Mark 4:41; 1 Corinthians 15:50). In such situations A. Robertson (A Grammar of New Testament Greek, 405) indicates that “it is rather the totality that is emphasized by the singular verb….” So here it would be the combined efforts of God the Father and the Lord Jesus to whom Paul appeals so that his intended visit to these Thessalonian believers will happen quickly.

In the story of Judith (12:8) the heroine pleads with the Lord, the God of Israel that he will “direct her path” (kateuthunai (infinitive) tēn hodon autēs), using the same expression that Paul employs in 1 Thessalonians 3:11. The Greek translator of Psalm 118(119):5 uses the verb in the same way, employing an optative form to express his desire to God that “my ways might be directed [passive verb form] to keep your statutes.” The translator of Proverbs similarly instructs ‘young men’ to “straighten your ways” (4:26). Paul obviously is using a ethical expression well-known within Hellenistic Judaism. This observation finds affirmation in the statement by the author of the “Letter of Aristeas” (2nd cent. BC) that “God, who is Lord of all, guides (kateuthunei) their {pious people] their actions and their designs” (18.6). So the verb in one sense mean to guide or direct someone’s way, usually so that they might succeed and prosper in their goal. This is how the writer of Luke’s Gospel employs it (1:79), when he says that  God sent  John the Baptist in order to “direct (kateuthunai) our feet into the way of peace.”

In 2 Thessalonians 3:5 it is not one’s way or path or steps that are the object of the verb, but καρδία “heart, disposition, will.” We find the same expression occurring frequently in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX). For example, in Proverbs 21:2 the writer states that “every man seems righteous to himself; however, the Lord directs hearts” (kateuthunei…kardias). David in his last prayer asks Yahweh (1 Chronicles 29:18) to “direct (kateuthunon tas kardias) their [Israelites] hearts toward you.” Conversely, the writer of 2 Chronicles notes that at the end of Jehoshaphat’s reign, “the people did not direct their heart ( kateuthune tēn kardian) toward the Lord” (20:33). Again, this expression has frequent occurrence within the writings of Hellenistic Judaism. In the context of the covenant Yahweh expects his people to have loyal hearts and so their leaders have responsibility to encourage this disposition. Yahweh can direct affairs in such a way as to support this response and Paul prays that “the Lord” will direct the hearts of the Thessalonian Christians “into God’s love and into the Messiah’s perseverance.” The Hebrew verb that this Greek verb translates in many passages (kun) in the hiphal form means “to make firm” (Psalm 119:5) and in the niphal form “to be steadfast” (Psalm 119.5).

In their use of this verb Paul and Luke incorporates the language that Hellenistic Jews would use to urge compliance with Yahweh’s covenant and also to pray that Yahweh would intervene in their affairs so that they would be successful.


Leave a Reply