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In 2 Thessalonians, St Paul writes:

2 Thessalonians 3:6-12: [6] Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. [7] For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, [8] nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. [9] It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. [10] For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. [11] For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. [12] Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

I am interested to know who these idle Christians were, and how it was they were able to be idle?

For example, in modern times, we have the notion of the “dole bludger“ (an Australian slang term) who gets their living money from welfare without any attempt to seek gainful employment…. but in the ancient world, I’m not entirely sure that it was a thing - to be an able bodied poor person, not work and yet expect not to starve.

I doubt Paul would direct such a command to sick or crippled people who were unable to work.

Therefore who are these idle people? Are they ordinary people who have discovered they can get their food by sponging off the charity of their fellow Christians (broadly equivalent to modern people who live on welfare with no attempt to seek employment)… or are they wealthy people who had slaves and servants to do the work required (in an agrarian society) to live?

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    – Dottard
    Jun 20, 2023 at 10:38
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    Is not the answer in the text you quoted - lazy people who do not wish to earn a living? That is, Paul is encouraging people (who are able) to earn a living and not depend on others. He is NOT talking about people who cannot work, just those who do not want to work.
    – Dottard
    Jun 20, 2023 at 10:40

2 Answers 2

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This is how the English Standard Version puts it:

V10: For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. V11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.

My ESV Study Bible makes this comment:

There is a word-play here in Greek: not ergazomenous (working) but periergazomenous (being a busybody, meddling). Those who refused to work were exploiting their free time to meddle in others’ affairs.

This links to 1 Timothy 5:13 where young widows are at risk of becoming “idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.”

It is entirely possible that these people could afford to be idle, that they were of independent means. After all, the city was on two major trade routes and was prosperous.

However, as the use of the Greek language shows, the main complaint against them was that those men were poking their noses into other people's business. They should have been following the example of Paul and his companions who were industrious and did not meddle in the affairs of other people.

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2 Thessalonians must be read together with 1 Thessalonians, that they both have the theme; the second coming of Christ.

Why would Paul wrote a second letter (The epistle of 2 Thessalonians) to the church of Thessalonica? Let me just focus on the OP question asked.

11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you,

12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 NIV)

In 2 Thessalonians, note these words

2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come.

3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. (2 Thessalonians 2:2-3 NIV)

Then came to 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12, Paul rebuked those who were idle to work.

Paul did not stay long in Thessalonica, Acts (Acts 17:1-9) recorded he went into the synagogue on three Sabbath days, provoked the jealousy of local Jews and they form a mob against him. For his safety, the believers sent Paul away to Berea. But he left Timothy to stay behind who reported back an encouraging good news (1 Thessalonians 3:6). However, Paul had a concern about their correct understanding of the 2nd coming of Christ, as he presented in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Apparently, his concern became true, when he found false teachers prophesized that the day had come, which Paul mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3.

From the context of both epistles, the Thessalonians were concern about when the Christ would return, and when they believed the false teachers saying that Christ was already returned, they were expecting their heavenly life and idle to work, possibly spending the rest of time on earth on their own pleasure.

These people were not sick or crippled, they were just tented to be lazy on work, but wild on living, a weakness that caught by Satan driven them to believe in a lie told by the false teachers.

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