Paul’s wish-prayer in 1 Thess 3:12 contains the twofold desire that the Lord Jesus increase the Thessalonians’ love “for one another” (εἰς ἀλλήλους) and “for all” (εἰς πάντας). An overwhelming number of commentators, buttressed by some tendentious English translations, think that the latter phrase is commending a love for all people, even extending to the Thessalonians’ persecutors. Yet insights from epistolary analysis as well as Paul’s own linguistic usage and apostolic example call into question this pervasive presupposition. The wish-prayer of 3:12 points not only back to themes earlier in the letter (2:17–3:10) but forward to themes developed in 4:1–5:22, most particularly brotherly/sisterly love at 4:10–12, which contains the interpretive key to the identity of εἰς πάντας in 3:12. Paul has a different term for outsiders altogether, which he can and does use in the letter to distinguish from insiders. Paul’s own apostolic example, called on to undergird the community’s love εἰς ἀλλήλους and εἰς πάντας, makes sense only within an ever-expanding insider-love ethic, which now includes those believers in the wider regions of Macedonia. In short, this article contends that no such universal love ethic exists in Paul and certainly not in this wish-prayer. For Paul (and arguably for the New Testament writings as a whole), love remains firmly embedded in the mutual caring and concern of the Christian community. While Christians do good to outsiders, outsiders are not the object of Christian love, which remains the prerogative of insiders only.

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