First Epistle to the Thessalonians
THESSALONIANS, FIRST EPISTLE
The account of Acts (17:2) may indicate that Paul worked in Thessalonica three to four weeks, although some scholars maintain that this period of “three sabbaths” was a reference only to his ministry in the synagogue, and thus they predicate a longer overall ministry in the city, perhaps as much as six months.
The church grew swiftly both numerically and spiritually. In fact, so gratifying had been their progress that Paul describes them as exemplary for the saints in Macedonia and Achaia (
The Bereans welcomed the message and made diligent study of the Scriptures to see whether what Paul proclaimed was true. But even as the apostle was enjoying success, the Jews at Thessalonica, hearing about the results, came to Berea in order to stir up a riot against God’s servants. The result was that, while Silas and Timothy were left behind in Berea to give support to the infant church, Paul himself was sent away to the coast (
While awaiting the arrival of Silas and Timothy, Paul continued to proclaim the message of the Gospel (
Upon receiving the word of Timothy concerning the Thessalonians Paul wrote to them (
Pauline authorship is not contested by many scholars today. In the past, however, certain of the Tübingen and Dutch schools regarded the epistle as unauthentic for the following reasons: (1) It is supposedly too untheological in content. But, it may be asked, why must all the apostle’s writings have been equally doctrinal in character? Varying circumstances require varying epistolary emphasis. Actually 1 Thessalonians is far from being doctrinally insignificant; it provides much needed information on the doctrine of last things (eschatology). (2) It fails to attack legalism—justification by the works of the law. But, it may be asked, was Paul a man of only one idea? It should be remembered that the situation in Thessalonica was not the same as that in Galatia. (3) It is claimed by some to be too dependent upon 1 and 2 Corinthians and therefore the work of a forger. But, this argument is the very reverse of argument (1) above. There 1 Thessalonians was rejected as authentic for not being Pauline enough; here it is rejected for being too Pauline! These arguments obviously cancel each other out. (4) It is supposedly contradictory to certain information in Acts (cf.
It is generally agreed by scholars that this epistle was written in the early fifties (c. 50-51). If this is correct, 1 Thessalonians would be the oldest preserved Pauline epistle, although some date Galatians earlier.
Place of origin.
It was written shortly after Timothy came to Athens, or in Corinth; the latter is more commonly held.
Thessalonica, the modern Salonica, was founded about 315 b.c. by Cassander, who named it in honor of his wife, the half-sister of . It was the largest and most important city in Macedonia and was also the capital of the province. It was situated on the most famous of Rom. military roads, the Egnatian Way, which connected Rome with the E. It was a seaport and a center of trade and commerce; a city ideally suited to Paul’s missionary strategy.
Paul received his inducement to write 1 Thessalonians from the reports which Timothy brought him from Thessalonica (
The first of these problems include the idea put forth by Harnack, and later by Lake, that the church at Thessalonica was divided into two sections meeting separately, a Jewish and Gentile church. It is then argued that 1 Thessalonians was written to the Gentile church and 2 Thessalonians to the Jewish church.
The arguments employed to establish this view are as follows: (1) It would seem that Gentiles were the recipients of the first epistle (cf.
This evidence is far from convincing. Taking the arguments in order, it may be stated: (1) The supposed Jewish coloring is not at all impressive. There are no quotations from the OT in the second epistle and even if there were this would in no way demand a Jewish destination. Paul cited the OT most frequently in his epistle to the Romans, but this letter was most certainly addressed to a predominantly Gentile congregation. (2) As for the argument based on a variant reading of the text, a variant rejected by most editors, such is at least precarious. (3) Finally the non-emphatic “all” in
Two additional and rather decisive factors militate against this divided church theory. First, such a view is in strong contradiction to the Pauline doctrine of the unity of the church (cf.
A second problem is that of co-authorship. Both epistles indicate that the senders are “Paul and Silvanus and Timothy” (
A third problem concerns the order of these two epistles. Some would maintain that they should be reversed. In this way many problems supposedly receive a solution which otherwise are difficult to resolve. The following arguments are urged in support of this thesis: (1) 2 Thessalonians speaks of the church as experiencing severe trials and difficulties whereas 1 Thessalonians speaks of these as past. (2) While certain difficulties within the church are mentioned in 2 Thessalonians as though the writer had just been informed of them, in 1 Thessalonians they are mentioned as though familiar to everyone, suggesting therefore a later stage. (3) The statement in 1 Thessalonians that they have no need to be instructed regarding “the times and the seasons” makes good sense if they had already received 2 Thessalonians. (4) The fact that Paul emphasizes his signature in
In response to these arguments, it may be noted that far from the trials of the first epistle being over, it would be better to see them as yet in the future. Paul would then be seen in this first epistle as encouraging these believers with respect to those persecutions which yet lay ahead. The expression “we hear that some of you are living in idleness” (
Having received information from Timothy concerning the state of the Thessalonian congregation, Paul writes expressing his thanks for their spiritual health as seen in their steadfastness under persecution. He vindicates his ministry among them as against the charges of his enemies. He instructs them concerning the status of their departed loved ones at the time of the Rapture. He exhorts them concerning their responsibilities in light of the future day of the Lord, warning them to avoid immorality and encouraging them to pursue righteousness. This epistle centers on the doctrine of the Second. Outline:
The Thessalonian epistles are the least dogmatic of all the Pauline epistles. That which makes Pauline theology distinctive is largely absent from these two epistles. There is no mention of the matter of the contrasts between law and grace; the term justification is not used at all; grace, a favorite watchword of Paul, occurs only twice (
Second, as respects the doctrine of Christ, the apostle so unites the Son with the Father as to indicate clearly His essential equality with the Father (
Third, as respects the doctrine of the
Fourth, as respects the doctrine of salvation, the apostle mentions the great doctrine of redemption through the death of Christ only once and that in a very general way (
See listing following article on 2 Thessalonians.