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1Thessalonians 4:4

"How to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour" (AV): The difficulty in translating this phrase is seen in the NIV -- where the text itself has "to control his own body" but the margin has "to live with his own wife" or "to acquire a wife." There are at least these possibilities, and the proper understanding of the phrase revolves around the two words "ktasthai" (acquire, or possess) and "skeuos" (vessel).

"Skeuos" is used literally of household utensils and containers (Mark 11:16; Luke 8:16; Rev 2:27; 18:12), and metaphorically of persons who are instruments for somebody's purpose (Acts 9:15). Men in general are referred to as the vessels either of God's mercy or His wrath (Rom 9:21-23). The human body is pictured as a piece of pottery, a fragile vessel (2Co 4:7). In certain ways the wife is even a "weaker vessel" (1Pe 3:7) than is the husband.

"Ktasthai" may signify either to acquire (as at one moment) or to possess and maintain and control (on a continuing basis). It does not seem likely that Paul would have been interested in his converts learning how to obtain a wife, having elsewhere stated that it is good not to marry (1Co 7:1); therefore the third of the three possibilities ("to acquire a wife") should most probably be eliminated. This leaves the other two views -- and the choice must hinge on which of the two figurative meanings of "vessel" (either one's own body or one's wife) is more likely in this context.

Either view seems reasonable and permissible, but a comparison with the practically parallel 1Co 7:2-5 would favor the translation of "to live with his own wife": "But since there is so much immorality ("porneia"), each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband" (v 2, NIV).

The verses that follow (vv 3-5) then suggest the definition of "ktasthai" / "possess" in 1Th 4:4, ie, to "fulfill his marital duty" by "not depriving each other." All a man's sexual desire should be directed toward his wife. To desire otherwise would be to imitate the Gentiles (1Th 4:5). And to act otherwise, following lustful thoughts with sinful actions, would be to "defraud" another man (v 6) -- that is, the husband of (or the one who will later become the husband of) the woman who is partner to his adultery. And Paul does not even mention the obvious fraud perpetrated against the wife herself!

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May God bless you,
George Booker,