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1 THESSALONIANS - Introduction

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1 Thessalonians - Introduction

Supplemental Commentary:



Thessalonica.  The city of Thessalonica, known at the present time as Saloniki, or Salonica, was in St. Paul's day the capital of Macedonia.  It was situated on a fine harbor in the Thermaic Gulf (Gulf of Salonica).  First known as Thermae, because of the hot springs in its vicinity, it was in the fourth century B.C. name Thessalonica after the half-sister of Alexander the Great.  In 168 B.C. Thessalonica along with the rest of Macedonia was conquered by the Romans and made a part of the Empire.  The Romans connected Thessalonica with Italy and the East by constructing the great military road, called the Egnatian Way.  The natural and political advantages of Thessalonica made it a prosperous and important city.  In the time of St. Paul its population was composed chiefly of native Greeks, although Jews and Romans were there in large numbers.

The Church at Thessalonica.  Paul founded the church at Thessalonica during the early part of his second missionary journey, assisted by Silvanus (Silas) and perhaps Timothy.  At least Timothy acted as Paul's representative there shortly after Paul and Silvanus were compelled to flee to Beroea.

After his arrival in Thessalonica Paul, following his usual procedure, entered the synagogue in that place and preached to the Jews, who willingly listened to him on three successive Sabbaths.  He succeeded in making some converts among the Jews and proselytes.  Apparently after three weeks he was no longer allowed to speak in the synagogue, and he turned his attention to the Gentile population of the city.  Here he met with great success, converting, as St. Luke says, "a large number" (Acts 17, 4).  The numerous conversions stirred up the envy of the unbelieving Jews who induced the rougher elements among the Gentile population to create a riot against Paul and Silvanus, and to charge them before the city magistrates with treason against Caesar.  As a result Paul and Silvanus had to leave the city hurriedly under cover of darkness.  Protected by an escort of converts they proceeded to Beroea, where again Jews from Thessalonica compelled Paul to leave.  This time he went to Athens, where after a brief stay he proceeded to Corinth (Acts 17, 5-15; 18, 1-5).

It seems likely that Paul had been in Thessalonica at least two or three months before his forced departure.  Such a length of time would be needed for him to bring about the organized and flourishing state of the church which the two Epistles to the Thessalonians reflect.  Then too, the report of the good example of the Thessalonians, which had been spread through the other Christian communities, presupposes that the church at Thessalonica had an experience of more than a few weeks before Paul's departure from it.

Occasion of the Epistles to the Thessalonians.  1 Thessalonians.  While at Athens St. Paul learned that his departure had not put an end to the persecution of the converts in Thessalonica.  Consequently he sent Timothy to them to instruct and strengthen them in their sufferings (1 Thess. 3, 1 f).  Shortly after Paul's arrival at Corinth Timothy brought a report of conditions in the church at Thessalonica, and his report occasioned Paul's First Epistle to the Thessalonians.  In general the condition of the church was most favorable.  The Thessalonians had remained firm in the faith in spite of persecution, and their conduct served as an example to other Christians in Macedonia and Achaia.  But evidently they had misunderstood Paul's preaching on the Second Coming of Christ.  Consequently it became necessary to give them fuller instruction on this topic.  The Thessalonians labored under the impression that the departed brethren would not share as fully in the triumphal return of Christ as those who would be alive on that day.  The thought that the dead would be at a disadvantage gave them great grief.  Paul informs them that such grief is unnecessary.  Those alive at the parousia will have no advantage over those already departed.

Certain faults in conduct were also making their appearance in the church, and Paul feels it necessary to deal with them in this Epistle.

2 Thessalonians.  St. Paul's instruction in 1 Thessalonians about the Second Coming of Christ did not have the desired effect.  Some were convinced more than ever that the Day of the Lord was at hand, and consequently spent their time in idleness.  Upon learning these facts Paul hastened to write a second letter in order to remove all misunderstanding on the subject of the parousia, or Second Coming of Christ.

Time and Place of Composition.  It was during his long stay of more than eighteen months at Corinth that Paul wrote 1 and 2 Thessalonians.  (Cf. Acts 18, 5.11; 1 Thess. 3, 6.)  Both Epistles were probably written in 51/52 A.D. and they are generally thought to be the earliest of all Paul's Epistles.

Authenticity.  1 Thessalonians.  The authenticity of this Epistle is well supported by external and internal evidence.

(a) External evidence.  From the earliest time this Epistle is ascribed to Paul.  It is listed as his in the Muratorian Canon, and by Marcion in his canon.  It is quoted as Paul's by Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Eusebius.  It bears Paul's name in the earliest Greek codices and Versions, such as the Old Latin and Syriac.

(b) Internal evidence.  The ideas and style are thoroughly Pauline.  In 1 Thessalonians are found such common Pauline teachings as the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1, 10; 4, 14; 5, 10); the resurrection of the human body (4, 14-17); the divinity of Christ (1, 9-10); the mediatorship of Christ (5, 10); the call of the Gentiles to the faith (2, 12).  Written to a church composed mostly of Gentile converts it contains, as would be expected, no quotations from the Old Testament.

2 Thessalonians.  (a) External evidence.  This Epistle was also acknowledged as Paul's from the earliest times.  It is attributed to Paul in ancient canons of the Scriptures and in the Manuscripts and Versions.  The volume of testimony for its Pauline authorship is even greater than that for his authorship of the First Epistle.

(b) Internal evidence.  The style and thought of this Epistle are also characteristically Pauline.  There is a close similarity in word and expression between it and the First Epistle.  The objection that  the Second Epistle contradicts the teaching of the First Epistle is not a valid one.  Paul made no statement in the First Epistle as to the time of the parousia, or Second Coming of Christ.  He merely said it would come suddenly and unexpectedly.  In the Second Epistle he gives fuller information.  The parousia is not imminent because as yet the great apostasy has not occurred and Antichrist has not appeared.  The Second Epistle is only more complete than the first on the subject of the parousia.


OUTLINE (1 Thessalonians)

Introduction 1, 1-10

I. Paul's Past Relations and Present Interest 2, 1 -- 4, 12

II. The Second Coming of our Lord 4, 13 -- 5, 11

Conclusion 5, 12-28

Confraternity Bible:



St. Paul founded the church at Thessalonica during the early part of his second great missionary journey, i.e., about 51 A.D.  Thessalonica, the capital of Macedonia, was a large and important city.  Its population was predominantly Gentile, but Jews dwelt there in sufficient numbers to have a synagogue.  Paul succeeded in converting some of the Jews and a large number of Gentiles.  But his success stirred up the envy of the unbelieving Jews, who by calumny and riot compelled him to flee to Beroea.  From there he went to Athens and Corinth, and it was in the latter city that this letter was written.

While at Athens Paul, fearing lest the persecution which continued against the church at Thessalonica should cause his new converts to abandon the faith, sent Timothy to ascertain conditions in the church and to comfort and strengthen its members.  Timothy reported to Paul at Corinth, bringing the cheering news of their constancy in the face of persecution.  He likewise informed Paul that the Thessalonians required further instruction on the Second Coming of Christ, and this topic forms the main doctrinal subject of the Epistle, which was written shortly after Timothy's return from Thessalonica.  The Second Epistle to the Thessalonians was written soon after the First, and these two Epistles are generally regarded as the earliest of Paul's writings.