1 Thes 4:3-8 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.

Some have argued that the "vessel" in this context is the wife (Clarke, Jamieson-Fausset-Brown, Vincent, Wesley, cf. CEV, GW, GNT, RSV):
RSV: "that each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor"
Others believe that the "vessel" is one's own body (Morris, Green, Phillips, Webster, Zuck&Cook, Calvin, Holman, Williams, Barnes, Gill, MacArthur, cf. AMP, CEB, CJB, ERV, ESV, HCSB, MSG, NET, NIV, NLT, NRSV):
NIV: "that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable"

I have two questions:
1) What is "his own vessel" in this context?
2) What does it mean to "defraud his brother in this matter"?


4 Answers 4


According to the Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (with judicious editing by me), the Greek phrase from which we get the English phrase "to possess one's own vessel" is probably better translated "how to acquire (get for himself) his own vessel"; that is, that each Christian man should have his own wife so as to avoid fornication (see 1 Thessalonians 4:3 and 1 Corinthians 7:2 ).

The emphatic position of "his own" in the Greek, the use of "vessel" for wife in 1 Peter 3:7, common Jewish phraseology, and the correct translation "acquire": all these justify this rendering (see Romans 6:19 , 1 Corinthians 6:15 1 Corinthians 6:18 ). Thus, "his own" stands in opposition to dishonoring his brother by lusting after his wife ( 1 Thessalonians 4:6 ).

As for the phrase "to defraud his brother," it could mean to go beyond or transgress the bounds of rectitude in respect to his brother in Christ. Commentator Alford thinks "defraud" could just as easily read "overreach." Commentator Edmunds suggests "take advantage of".

The "matter" is the conjugal honor of his neighbor as a husband to his wife. First Thessalonians 4:4 and 1 Thessalonians 4:7 also confirm this view. Furthermore, the word "brother" enhances the enormity of the crime, which could be adultery (though the text does not say this but uses the generic "sexual immorality"), or having sex with a sister or other close relative of a brother in Christ (compare Proverbs 6:27-33 ).


Perhaps Paul was alluding to the Torah:

[Deu 23:24 KJV] 24 When thou comest into thy neighbour's vineyard, then thou mayest eat grapes thy fill at thine own pleasure; but thou shalt not put [any] in thy vessel (כְּלִי ).

If so then it is a harvest metaphor. Perhaps what it suggests is that if you are welcomed into your neighbor's home, don't steal his wife.

כְּלִי can refer to any kind of implement such as a sack, pot, etc.

As to "defraud", Thayer has:

STRONGS NT 4122: πλεονεκτέω πλεονεκτέω, πλεονέκτω; 1 aorist ἐπλεονέκτησα; 1 aorist passive subjunctive 1 person plural πλεονεκτηθῶμεν; (πλεονέκτης); 1. intransitive, to have more, or a greater part or share: Thucydides, Xenophon, Plutarch, others; to be superior, excel, surpass, have an advantage over, τίνος (genitive of person) τίνι (the dative of thing): Xenophon, Plato, Isocrates, Demosthenes, others. 2. transitive, to gain or take advantage of another, to overreach: (Herodotus 8, 112), Plato, Diodorus, Dionysius Halicarnassus, Dio Cassius, others; and so in the N. T. in 2 Corinthians 7:2; 2 Corinthians 12:17, 18; 1 Thessalonians 4:6 (see πρᾶγμα, b.); passive (cf. Buttmann, § 132, 22) ὑπό τίνος, 2 Corinthians 2:11(10). THAYER’S GREEK LEXICON, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2002, 2003, 2006, 2011 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission. BibleSoft.com

The "take advantage of another, to overreach" I think fits the context of 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 very well.


According to Dake's Annotated Reference Bible: About verse 6 it says: 'That no man defraud his brother by seducing his wife to corrupt her and break up a home. This still refers to sex sins and not cheating . . .' That implies that 'his vessel' in verse 4 refers to 'man's own body' as in 2 Timothy 2: 21.


I believe this to mean your own sexual drives and desires. To deal with these desires yourself in a way that honours God.

  • 1
    Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics StackExchange! Please read the FAQ on tips for a helpful response. For example, it would be helpful to know how you believe the passage leads you to your interpretation.
    – Frank H.
    Jul 10, 2018 at 12:45

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.