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13. 1 Thessalonians: Introduction, Outline, and Argument

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I. Introduction

A. Thessalonica, the City

1. Location

Hiebert gives a nice summary as to the strategic location of Thessalonica:

The city of Thessalonica enjoyed the advantages of a strategic location. The famous Via Egnatia (Egnatian Way), spanning Macedonia from east to west, passed through the walls of the city. This important Roman highway facilitated brisk travel and commerce and put Thessalonica into ready contact with the important inland districts on either side of it. It was the principal artery of communication between Rome and her eastern provinces.

Due to its location, Thessalonica might well be called “the key to the whole of Macedonia.” The dictum of Meletius concerning it was, “So long as nature does not change, Thessalonica will remain wealthy and fortunate.”1 One of its native poets proudly called it the “mother of all Macedon.”2

2. Inhabitants

Thessalonica was the largest city of Macedonia. It has been estimated that during Paul’s time its population may have been as high as 200,000. The majority of the inhabitants were Greeks, but there was also a mixture of other ethnic groups, including Jews (according to Acts 17:1-10). Today about half of Salonica is Jewish. Several scholars (especially those of the nineteenth century such as Lightfoot) argued that this is proof that the synagogue was thriving and kept on thriving after Paul’s ministry there. But “a visit to Salonica would have saved him [Lightfoot] from this error. The Jews of Salonica speak Spanish as their language, and are descended from Spanish Jews, expelled by Ferdinand and Isabella . . . ”3 Indeed, the only ancient evidence of Jews in Thessalonica is the record of Acts 17, making it impossible to surmise how large the Jewish population was.

As to their moral standards, the Thessalonians were hardly any different from the citizens of any other large Greek city. Presumably, most were idolaters, though it is certain that some were seeking a different kind of religious experience than polytheism could provide; hence, they attached themselves (loosely) to the local synagogue.

3. History

In c. 315 BCE Cassander, the son-in-law of Philip of Macedon (who fathered Alexander the Great) gathered and organized the area villages into a new metropolis, Thessalonica. He gave the city its name in honor of his wife, the half-sister of Alexander.

Thessalonica remained in Greek hands until 168 BCE, when the Romans took possession after winning the battle of Pydna. At that time:

…the Romans divided the conquered territory into four districts, Thessalonica [being] named the capital of the second district. In 146 B.C. Macedonia was united into one Roman province with Thessalonica as the natural choice for its capital. In 42 B.C. Thessalonica was made a “free city” by Anthony and Octavian, the future Augustus, as a reward for the help given in the struggle against Brutus and Cassius.

The Roman proconsul, the governor of Macedonia, had his residence in Thessalonica, but because it was a “free city” he did not control its internal affairs. No Roman garrison was stationed there, and in spirit and atmosphere it was a Greek rather than a Roman city. Enjoying local autonomy, the city was apparently governed by a board of magistrates…

Furthermore, according to Acts 17, the city also had a senate and a public assembly.

B. The Author

First Thessalonians is accepted by virtually all NT scholars. The radical criticism of the Tübingen and Dutch schools of last century is now considered passé (A. Q. Morton and his flawed computer-based linguistic analysis being an anomaly). Still, it is helpful to rehearse the reasons why it is so well accepted.

1. External Evidence

Not only is 1 Thessalonians found in Marcion’s canon and the Muratorian canon, but it is also quoted by name by Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian. Perhaps even Polycarp alludes to it when he speaks of Paul’s letters to the Philippians.4 Further, it is found in the most ancient MSS (including the old Latin, old Syriac, and ¸46), suggesting its full acceptance from a very early period. Although not as strong as the evidence for the Hauptbriefe (in terms of frequency of citation), 1 Thessalonians has nevertheless enjoyed universal acceptance.

2. Internal Evidence

a. Arguments Against Pauline Authorship

There are essentially two arguments that are sometimes used against authenticity: historical problems and a literary problem.

1) Historical Problems. Essentially there are two historical problems, both related to the record in Acts 17: (1) in Acts 17:2 Paul’s stay in Thessalonica is said to be “three sabbaths,” but the impression given in 1 Thessalonians is that he must have stayed much longer; (2) Acts 17:4 seems to indicate that the make-up of the church was primarily Jews and “God-fearers,” while 1 Thess 1:9 indicates that most had come out of paganism. These discrepancies have caused some scholars to doubt the authenticity of 1 Thessalonians, though the majority, if they are to question anything, usually doubt the historical accuracy of the Acts record.

In response, see our later discussions on the historical reconstruction and the make-up of the recipients. Suffice it to say here that these historical problems are by no means insurmountable: in the least, if Luke is giving a selective account (as is his custom for much of his narrative), it is quite possible to suppose that Paul had stayed in Thessalonica much longer than three weeks and that, therefore, the make-up of the church was altered as more and more Gentiles joined the ranks.5

2) Literary Problem: An Alleged Interpolation. In 1 Thess. 2:13-16 the apostle engages in an anti-Jewish polemic. Several scholars have argued that Paul could not have written such a diatribe. However, not only is there no MS evidence that this was ever not a part of this letter, but 2:13-16 seems to form an inclusio with 1:2-10, finishing off that section in a literarily tight fashion.6 Further, even if this were an interpolation, this would not deny authenticity for the rest of the epistle.

In sum, these arguments are not very convincing against authenticity. Even if we were to grant a discrepancy between Acts and 1 Thessalonians, as well as an interpolation for 2:13-16, neither of these arguments could overthrow Pauline authorship: most scholars value Paul’s autobiographical remarks above the more detached comments mentioned in Acts, and an interpolation of four verses does not negate authorship of the rest of the letter. But, as we have seen, there is probably no discrepancy between Acts and this letter, and there is almost certainly no interpolation of 2:13-16.

b. Arguments for Authenticity

Although hardly necessary even to mention any positive arguments,7 three stand out as especially significant.

1) Ecclesiology. The church structure is obviously primitive, since in 5:12 the apostle calls the leaders merely “those who are over you.”

2) Eschatology. “The language and style are certainly Pauline, while the subject-matter would be inconceivable after Paul’s death. No one would have thought of representing the apostle as expecting to be alive at the parousia when it was known that he was already dead.”8

3) Motive. Especially in light of the above consideration (viz., the author’s personalized eschatological hope), it is difficult to conceive of a forger writing this epistle for any reason other than to discredit Paul. Thus, Guthrie can say, “even if these obstacles to a forgery theory were not considered insuperable, it would be wrecked by the fact that no adequate motive for such a production has ever been suggested.”9

In sum, on all counts 1 Thessalonians must be regarded as genuine: it has good external credentials, and virtually impregnable internal arguments in its behalf.

C. Date

It is most likely that 1 Thessalonians was written shortly after Paul’s arrival in Corinth, for he would be eager to correspond with the new church as soon as possible (for details of the specific catalyst behind the writing of this letter, see “occasion”). In our chronological scheme, this would be spring of 50 CE. Thus, 1 Thessalonians is the second canonical book penned by the apostle Paul, written within two years after Galatians.

D. Destination/Recipients

In 1:1 the apostle addresses “the church of the Thessalonians,” though some questions have arisen as to the make-up of that church. Specifically, was it primarily Jewish or Gentile? And if primarily Gentile, were these Gentiles former proselytes of the Jewish synagogue or were they simply former pagans? First Thess. 1:9-10 and Acts 17:1-10 have quite a bit of bearing on this question. It is our conviction that the main leadership of the church was Jewish, though the majority of the membership was of Gentile origin, many of whom were loosely attached to the synagogue.10

E. Occasion and Purpose

1. Historical Reconstruction

(1) Paul and Silas had visited Thessalonica in the autumn of 49 CE, on Paul’s second missionary journey, having passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, since there was no synagogue in either town (Acts 17:1).

(2) The apostle preached for “three Sabbaths”—i.e., somewhere between fifteen and twenty-seven days (Acts 17:2). As was the custom of first century Judaism, the synagogue would have meetings on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. “Three Sabbaths” then would mean that Paul was probably able to preach at least eight or nine times.

(3) The make-up of those who believed was (1) a minority of Jews, (2) a majority of “God-fearers,” and (3) some leading women, presumably Gentile (Acts 17:4; cf. 17:12).

(4) After Paul began his sermon on the third Sabbath, the Jews started a riot (Acts 17:5). These Jews were jealous of the many converts Paul was making, so they gathered a mob and started a riot by claiming that Paul and Silas were claiming that there was another king besides Caesar (Acts 17:7).11 The reason the city got worked up over this was because it was a free city: if the populace were to become convinced of another king, Thessalonica would be in danger of losing its free status.

(5) The narrative of Acts 17 reads as though Paul had just preached about Jesus as king when the Jews took action. If so, he must have been preaching about Jesus’ coming kingdom—a theme he customarily did not get to until his death and resurrection had been sufficiently covered.12 Thus, it seems that Paul only touched on eschatology, getting cut off before he could give all the necessary details about Christ’s coming.13

(6) The city authorities apparently took bail money from Jason (Acts 17:9),14 at least as a security measure to keep the peace, though in effect having the force of keeping Paul out of town.15

2. Duration of Stay in Thessalonica

According to the reconstruction above, Paul and Silas stayed in Thessalonica from two to four weeks. There are several scholars who argue that the stay should be measured in months instead of weeks however. The point has some bearing on how developed the eschatology of the Thessalonians was, for the longer Paul stayed the less likely is a misunderstanding on their part.

a. Arguments for a Longer Stay

There are principally four arguments for a longer stay.

1) Paul’s autobiographical note seems to contradict Acts 17:2, for the apostle seems to have an acquaintance with the Thessalonians which would have gone beyond three weeks.

2) The Thessalonians’ understanding of doctrine—even such an insignificant doctrine as eschatology—argues for a longer stay.

3) The make-up of the church as detailed in 1 Thess 9–10 seems to be former pagans—a factor which argues against Luke telling the whole story in Acts 17.

4) Philippians 4:16 must surely be read: “even in Thessalonica you sent me help again and again”—that is, several times.16

b. Arguments for a Shorter Stay

There are five key arguments for the short stay view.

1) This is the prima facie meaning of Acts 17:2—that is, that Paul stayed in the city for only two to four weeks. Although Luke is not exhaustive in his historical reporting, when he gives chronological notes there should be little reason to quibble with them.

2) Whether the finer points of eschatology are insignificant or not is hardly an objectively verifiable question when one is considering the complex mind of Paul the apostle as well as the occasional nature of the letter he has written.

3) Our reconstruction of Paul’s visit to Thessalonica (see above) suggests that eschatology became an issue within a matter of weeks. Further, it was Paul’s normal pattern to go to the synagogue in a city first (cf. Acts 17:11), then to the Gentiles. It is difficult to see the Jews starting a riot against Paul after he had taken up residence for six months to a year, and, in fact, had not bothered the synagogue for most of that time. Further, it is probable that the Jews would have asked Paul why Jesus did not set up his kingdom as an attempt to trap Paul. Thus once Paul declared the Jesus would reign fully some day, they started a riot.

4) As far as integrating 1 Thess 1:9-10 with the short stay hypothesis, three possibilities exist: (1) Paul may have visited the Gentiles during the week (but if so, why did not Luke mention that most of the converts were simply pagan converts?). (2) When Paul said in 1 Thess 1:9 that his audience had turned to a living and true God from idolatry, he may have been referring in part to their past beliefs long before he knew them—beliefs which they abandoned when they came to the synagogue to worship.17 (3) The “God-fearers” of Acts 17:4 may simply have been pagans who were at the time sampling Judaism. They had a smorgasbord of religions in Thessalonica and Judaism was one of them. Luke does not say God-fearers with reference to these Gentiles (they are simply σεβομένων, not τὸν θεὸν σεβομένων). Thus there may be no disharmony at all between Luke and Paul on the identity of these new converts.18

5) Finally, Phil. 4:16 can be handled quite nicely within the short stay view. There are two ways to deal with this. (1) Morris suggests that Phil. 4:16 should be translated, “Once in Thessalonica and again (while in other places) . . . ” Thus he posits an ellipsis. He has some good evidence for the “once and again” idea (“repeatedly” is the force, not necessarily indicating only twice), but the ellipsis seems to do damage to the plain meaning of this verse, just as a longer stay view seems to do damage to Acts 17:2. One would certainly not come up with Morris’ suggestion if he were not familiar with the book of Acts. (2) Philippians 4:16 involves an ascensive καί (“for even while I was in Thessalonica . . .”). Paul is therefore expressing surprise that the Philippians would have sent him funds more than once while in Thessalonica. Commentators often point out that for the Philippians to send Paul money twice (or more) within the span of a few weeks would be highly unlikely. Paul, too, expresses the same surprise.19

In conclusion, if we take Luke’s account at face value, Paul preached in Thessalonica for three Sabbaths (as well as on Thursday and Monday, as was the custom of the synagogue). Although there are difficulties with this view (most notably those found in 1 Thess 1:9 and Phil 4:16), a close inspection of the evidence reveals a greater harmony if the “short stay” view is accepted.

2. Occasion

Paul certainly would have wanted to write to the Thessalonians after his brief stay in the city, if for no other reason than for encouraging the saints he had been cut off from. But the catalyst was a return visit from Timothy in which he reported several issues which needed clearing up (cf. 1 Thess 3:1-5).20 Since Timothy’s name is absent from Acts 16:6 to 17:13 and since the pledge which Jason had to make to keep peace seems to have prevented Paul and Silas from returning, it is our view that Timothy was not with them on their visit to the city. To be able to send Timothy back to them when neither Silas nor Paul could return is in perfect harmony with this supposition.

3. Purpose

This epistle essentially has a fourfold purpose: (1) to express Paul’s joy that the church is growing and doing well; (2) to vindicate Paul’s ministry and the Thessalonians’ conversion; (3) to correct some misunderstanding about eschatology both because Paul’s message on that topic was “cut short” and, in the meantime, some of the Thessalonians had died (leaving nagging questions as to when they would be reunited with living believers); and (4) to correct some other, moral and practical, matters (which were not unrelated either to the vindication of Paul’s ministry or to eschatological issues).

F. Theme

The Thessalonian epistles, more than any other of Paul’s letters, emphasize the Lord’s return. The theme of 1 Thessalonians can be summed up as “the resurrection of the saints and the rapture of the Church.”

II. Argument

Paul opens his letter with a customary salutation (1:1), written to the Thessalonian believers.

He then spends the next three chapters setting forth his relation to the Thessalonians (1:2–3:13). He does this apparently because Jews from the synagogue in Thessalonica were trying to discredit Paul, arguing that he was no different than those who peddled their philosophy for profit on naïve audiences. The opponents attacked Paul on three grounds: (1) the Thessalonians’ conversion was not genuine—hence, Paul’s message could not be from God; (2) Paul was a peddler for profit; and (3) the proof that Paul was not interested in the Thessalonians is that he has not even bothered to visit them again. To these charges Paul now responds.

First, the apostle expresses thanks to God for the confirmation of the Thessalonians’ salvation as seen in their spiritual growth (1:2-10). He commends them to God because of their spiritual productivity which is motivated by their focus on salvation, their present walk with the Lord, and their hope of glorification (1:3). The apostle now reveals the evidence of their salvation (which is the reason he knows that they are saved): (1) his gospel was proclaimed with full conviction in the power of the Holy Spirit (1:4-5); (2) the Thessalonians accepted the gospel and followed Paul’s pattern in words and works (1:6-8); and (3) the Thessalonian believers remained steadfast in the apostolic kerygma (1:9-10).

The second reason Paul sets forth his relationship to the Thessalonian believers is to defend/confirm the genuineness of his apostleship and their conversion (2:1-16). Here Paul first presents positive (and objective) evidence (2:1-12), followed by negative (and subjective) evidence (2:13-16). Positively, the first reason that Paul’s apostleship (i.e., that he was sent from God) and, consequently, the Thessalonians’ conversion should be accepted as genuine is because (1) Paul’s message was from God (2:3-4), (2) his motives were pure (2:5-8), and (3) his method was characterized by sacrificial service and hard work among the Thessalonians (2:9-12). These points are all stated in 2:1-2, then elaborated on in 2:3-12.

Then the negative evidence is presented: The second reason Paul’s apostleship and the Thessalonians’ conversion should be accepted as genuine is because (1) the Thessalonians accepted Paul’s message as from God (2:13-14a), and (2) those who maligned the Thessalonians’ faith belong to the class of men who reject the truth and will be rejected by God (2:14b-16). In this second point Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they have suffered at the hands of their (Jewish) countrymen who are just like the Jews in Judea in their rejection of the truth. The wrath of God will certainly come (ἔφθασεν is a proleptic aorist) on them because of this.

The third reason Paul sets forth his relationship to the Thessalonian believers is to express his deep desire to visit them again (2:17–3:10). He begins with a negative argument, offers a “Plan B,” and shows the result of this second plan. The negative argument is that Paul and Silas have not returned to Thessalonica because Satan has prevented them (2:17-20)—an oblique reference, we believe, to the security taken from Jason. The “Plan B” then goes into effect: Timothy, who had not visited Thessalonica the first time, was sent to them to strengthen their faith in the midst of forewarned persecutions (3:1-5). The result of Timothy’s visit is that Paul now has a renewed desire to visit the Thessalonians as well as much encouragement about their faith (3:6-10).

At this stage the first major section of the epistle concludes with a transitional benediction. The content of Paul’s prayer (in light of the fact that the genuineness of his ministry, his message, and their faith stand vindicated) is that the Lord would (1) bring the apostles back to the Thessalonians, (2) continue to sanctify these believers, and (3) perfectly sanctify them at the time of the second coming of Christ (3:11-13).

Having vindicated himself and their conversion, Paul now can get to the heart of the epistle (4:1–5:22). Since this section contains prophecy as well as authoritative exhortations, Paul necessarily had to establish that he was a spokesman for God before proceeding. Hence, as long as the first three chapters are, they function basically as backdrop to chapters 4 and 5. In essence, these last chapters are an argument for proper relations within the body of Christ in the light of the imminent return of Christ. There are three basic parts: (1) an emphasis on proper conduct with other Christians in the body (4:1-12), (2) encouragement about the Lord’s return with some specific eschatological details (4:13–5:11), and (3) exhortations concerning proper attitudes toward authorities within the body (5:12-22). The middle position of the eschatological paragraph is no accident: it governs the other two sections in terms of rationale. That is to say, the reason believers should have proper horizontal relations (in terms of authority) within the body and proper hierarchical relations within the body is because  the Lord’s return for the saints is imminent.

First (since his authority is from God), Paul argues that the manner of the believers’ lifestyle should be characterized by proper horizontal relations within the body (4:1-12). In 4:1-2 he summarizes this by stating that the Thessalonians’ lifestyle should be characterized by continually pleasing God (4:1-2). Then he gives specifics (4:3-12): (1) negatively, the believers’ lifestyle should be characterized by the absence of irresponsible lust (4:3-8); (2) positively, the believers’ lifestyle should be characterized by a mutual edification (extending beyond the local body) and an individual work ethic (affecting the non-believer’s view of the church) (4:9-12).

Second (in light of the fact that Paul’s message is from God), Paul now encourages the Thessalonians with reference both to living and dead Christians on the basis that all will be resurrected/raptured imminently—before the day of the Lord begins (4:13–5:11). This section really has two distinct parts as seen by the περὶ δέ in 5:1. In the first part Paul encourages the saints with some positive news about their destiny and that of their dead. In the second part Paul encourages the saints by denying negative news (the wrath of God).

In 4:13-18 the apostle essentially encourages the believers about the status of Christians who have died (4:13). In essence, his argument is that he has received a prophecy (“word of the Lord” in 4:15) that both living and dead saints will be together with the Lord imminently in their translated bodies at the rapture (rather than the dead saints having to wait seven years) (4:14-17).

In 5:1-11 Paul exhorts the saints to be alert (5:6-8) since they are sons of light (5:4-5) and since the day of the Lord will come suddenly (5:1-3). This alertness has to do with proper Christian conduct, rather than watchfulness for signs of the Lord’s return, as is evident by the abrupt unexpectedness of the Lord’s return. Paul follows this challenge with a promise: just as the non-elect are destined for the time of God’s wrath (cf. 2:16), God’s children are destined for escape from it (5:9). This wrath almost certainly carries a double entendre force to it: both the tribulation period and final wrath (namely, hell). Believers are not destined for either. This promise extends even to those believers who are not alert (5:10). A state of non-alertness affects present sanctification, but has no impact on the time of future glorification. Paul concludes this eschatological section with a final encouragement (5:11) which appropriately forms an inclusio with the encouragement in 4:18.

Third, the manner of lifestyle believers should have in relation to intrachurch authority (in light of the imminence of the rapture) is respect for leaders (5:12-13), responsibility toward imperfect saints (5:14-15), reverence for God (5:16-18), and critical receptiveness toward prophecy (5:19-22).

The epistle concludes with a benediction and final greetings (5:23-28).

III. Outline

I. Salutation (1:1)

II. Paul’s Relation to the Thessalonians (1:2–3:13)

A. Thanks for the Thessalonians (1:2-10)

1. The Commendation of the Thessalonians before God (1:2-3)

2. The Evidence of the Thessalonians’ Salvation before Men (1:4-10)

a. Proclamation in Power (1:4-5)

b. Reception of the Gospel (1:6-8)

c. Faithfulness to the Kerygma (1:9-10)

B. Defense of Paul’s Apostleship and the Thessalonians’ Conversion (2:1-16)

1. Positive and Objective Defense (2:1-12)

a. Statement (2:1-2)

b. Defense (2:3-12)

1) The Source of Paul’s Kerygma (2:3-4)

2) The Internal Motive (2:5-8)

3) The External Method (2:9-12)

2. Negative and Subjective Defense (2:13-16)

a. The Thessalonians’ Reception of the Gospel (2:13-14a)

b. Their Opponents’ Rejection of the Gospel (2:14b-16)

C. Paul’s Desire to Visit (2:17–3:10)

1. The Hindrance of Satan (2:17-20)

2. The Sending of Timothy (3:1-5)

3. The News from Timothy (3:6-10)

D. Transitional Benediction (3:11-13)

III. The Lord’s Return as a Motive for Sanctification (4:1–5:24)

A. Proper Horizontal Relations within the Body (4:1-12)

1. Statement: Pleasing God (4:1-2)

2. Specific Entreaties: (4:3-12)

a. Negative: Do Not Lust (4:3-8)

b. Positive: Edification and Work Ethic (4:9-12)

B. The Imminent Return of the Lord (4:13–5:11)

1. Rapture and Resurrection (4:13-18)

a. Negative Statement: No Cause for Grief (4:13)

b. Argument Proper: Resurrection and Rapture are (Virtually) Simultaneous (4:14-18)

1) First Evidence: The Resurrection of Christ (4:14)

2) Second Evidence: New Revelation given to Paul (4:15a)

3) Specific Content (4:15b-17)

a) Resurrection Precedes Rapture (4:15b)

b) Succession of Eschatological Events (4:16-17a)

c) Results: Forever with Christ (4:17b-c)

c. Positive Statement: Encouragement of the Saints (4:18)

2. Deliverance from God’s Wrath (5:1-11)

a. The Suddenness of the Lord’s Return (5:1-3)

b. The Vigilance of the Saints (5:4-8)

1) Description of the Saints: Sons of Light (5:4-5)

2) Responsibility of the Saints: Be Alert (5:6-8)

c. The Promise of God (5:9-10)

1) Escape from Wrath (5:9)

2) Rapture for All Believers (5:10)

d. Final Eschatological Encouragement (5:11)

C. Proper Hierarchical Relations within the Body (5:12-22)

1. Recognition and Regard for Leaders (5:12-13)

a. Recognition of Leaders’ Office (5:12)

b. Regard for Leaders’ Work (5:13)

2. Responsible Action toward “Imperfect” Saints (5:14-15)

3. Reverence toward God (5:16-18)

4. Critical Receptiveness of Prophecy (5:19-22)

IV. Concluding Remarks (5:23-28)

A. Benediction (5:23-24)

B. Final Greetings (5:25-28)

1Apparently Meletius was a prophet, for his statement has proven true. Thessalonica, today known as Salonica, is still a thriving city with almost 300,000 inhabitants.

2J. Hiebert, The Thessalonian Epistles, 11.

3W. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and Roman Citizen, 236.

4See discussion in our introduction to Philippians.

5Although this is not the view we adopt, it is quite plausible and does justice both to Acts and 1 Thessalonians.

6Note the themes in both sections: (1) thanksgiving to God (1:2/2:13) that (2) the Thessalonians received the word as from God (1:5/2:13); (3) this word is powerful (1:5/2:13); (4) the Thessalonians became imitators (1:6/2:14); (5) the believers suffered while they were imitating their role models (1:6/2:14); (6) the Gentiles are getting saved because of the Thessalonians’ testimony (1:7-9), not from Paul’s ministry which has been hindered (2:15-16); (7) the Gentile believers will be saved from the coming wrath (1:9-10), while the Jewish unbelievers have not been able to escape the wrath (2:16). These parallels are quite remarkable, especially in that once they depart fromthe same motif (points 6 and 7), their exact opposites are picked up—e.g., Gentile salvation vs. Jewish unbelief, etc.

7Bruce pointed out that “The absence of anything in this epistle that criticism can easily lay hold of has been for most critics a powerful argument for its authenticity. Baur, however, saw in this ‘a criterion adverse to a Pauline origin.’ (The authentic Paul, it is implied, provides no lack of material for criticism to lay hold of—which is true in one sense)” (F. F. Bruce, “St. Paul in Macedonia: 2. The Thessalonian Correspondence,” BJRL 62 [1980] 330).

8Guthrie, 589. Indeed, this is such a strong argument for authenticity that some have even argued that 1 Thess 4:15 (“we who are liave, who are left until the coming of the Lord”) demonstrates that Paul was a false prophet (so J. G. Davies, “The Genesis of the Belief in an Imminent Parousia,” JTS 14 [1963] 103-04)!

9Guthrie, 589.

10We will examine this in some detail in our discussion of the occasion/historical reconstruction.

11One of the ironies in this passage is that the Jews appear to be joalous for Caesar’s honor (Acts 17:7)—a posture hardly conceivable for orthodox Jewry. However, within the pages of the NT, the Jews took on this posture once before, when Pilate confronted them with Jesus’ kingship; “we have no king but Caesar” was their response (John 19:15).

12Cf. Acts 13:26-41; 17:18, 31; 23:6; 25:17-19 (in which the only charge brought by the Jews against Paul is that he was proclaiming the resurrection of Christ); 26:4-9, 23 (a summary of Paul’s gospel); 1 Thess 1:9-10 seems also to represent the apostolic kerygma—especially as it was preached at Thessalonica.

13One intriguing question is why Paul even bring up Jesus’ second coming in the first place? Though this seems quite normative to us, the Acts accounts of Paul’s trials leaves this topic completely out. That is to say, Paul was apparently not charged with claiming that there was another king besides Caesar, just that he had been raised form the dead (cf. references in previous footnote). It is quite likely that, in engaging in debates with the Jews, they would have argued that Jesus was not the Messiah because he did not usher in the kingdom. Paul would have responded that he will usher it in in its full blossom some day—and that the reason it had not yet been consummated was because of Israel’s rejection. Thus, the charge that Paul was proclaiming another king now had some basis—and the net result was his expulsion from the city.

14Cf. Moulton-Milligan on iJkanovn.

15Although in 1 Thess. 2:18 the apostle says that he wanted to return to Thessalonica “again and again,” it is not necessary to suppose that he actually made the attempt. Indeed, the hindering by Satan could well be the reminder of the potential financial ruin of Jason if paul were to return and a riot were to ensue.

16Cf. L. Morris, Thessalonians (TNT), 17 and his article in NovT 1 (1956) 205-08 in which he proves his point. (Incidentally, Guthrie has misread Morris’ argument, reversing what Morris has in fact said! Cf. Guthrie, 590, n. 2.)

17It is admitted that Acts is a transitional book, marking the end of one dispensation and the beginning of the next. One of the interesting things to note in Acts is how often certain folks are called “devout” or “righteous” or “worshiper of God” before they are confronted with the claims of Christ (cf. Acts 10:2, 7, 22; 13:16, 26; 16:14; 18:7). Partly because news of the Christ-event had not yet reached much of Judaism outside of Palestine it is important to regard the ministry of the sunagogue (between 33 CE and 70 CE) as often-times within God’s will. This is not to say that Jews who had never heard the name of Christ in, say, 63 CE, would be saved; but it is to say that Paul did not see the synagogue as necessarily in opposition to his mission. He consistently went to the synagogue first in each city not to disrupt them (although this frequently happened), but to bring them the great news that the Messiah had come. The synagogues, then, performed a service for Paul: they prepared folks for the gospel. And for Gentiles this was especially valuable, for the synagogue marked perhaps the first step in a two-step process of spiritual birth: turning to a true God from idols.

18To see “God-fearers” as less than a technical title (for a Noachide monotheist) is very much a minority opinion nowadays (cf. BAGD, s.v. σέβω, 746; Foerster, TDNT 7.172). Although it is unquestioned that these Gentiles were uncircumcised (otherwise they would be called by the rather technical name “proselyte”—cf. the Mishnah, Pesachim 8.8), I question whether all who were called by the name σεβόμενος were, in fact, monotheists. The evidence is as follows. (1) In Acts: (a) earlier references to “God-fearers” in Acts use a different verb (φοβέομαι) and make the object explicit (cf. 10:2, 22; 13:16, 26), while it is not stated in Acts 17:4; (b) in Acts 19:27 Luke uses σέβομαι, but this time with reference to those who worship Artemis (are we to suppose that these pagans worshipped only Artemis?); (c) whatever distinctions Rabbinic Judaism made, Luke seems to be unaware of: in Acts 13:43, he speaks of “[God-]fearing proselytes” (σεβομένων προσηλύτων) using two terms which, in Rabbinic writings, would refer to two distinct groups (the first being uncircumscised Gentile monotheists, the second being circumcised full-fledged converts to Judaism).

(2) In Josephus: (a) Antiquities 14.110 is often used in support of the monotheistic view (so BAGD: “σεβόμενοι τὸν θεόν God-fearers, worshippers of God is a term applied to pagans who accepted the ethical monotheism of Judaism”). But in that text Josephus says, “But no one need wonder that there was so much wealth in our temple, for all the Jews throughout the habitable world, and those who worshipped God, even those from Asia and Europe, had been contributing to it for a very ong time.” There is nothing explicit in this text to suggest that these Gentiles were strict monotheists (in fact, the closest parallel to this passage—found in the Mishnah—suggests just the opposite). (b) Although some scholars have argued that Josephus never uses σέβομαι in reference to idol-worship (citing such passages as Antiquities 9.99, 4.130, 137), they overlook Antiquities 9.205 where Jeroboam is said to worship idols.

(3) In Rabbinic material: (a) the Mishnah distinguishes three classes of Gentiles: proselytes (circumcised), half-proselytes (uncircumcised follower of the seven Noachide laws), and non-Jews (also known as Gentiles or idolaters). In Shekalim 7.6 we read of a non-Jew sending his burnt-offering to the temple from a country beyond the sea—paralleling Josephus, Antiquities 14.110 and showing the faulty assumptions that usually accompany the interpretation of the latter text. (b) At best, only in a later period of Jewish literature did “fearers of heaven” take on anything of a technical meaning (two references in the Talmud are often cited, yet they have their own inconsistencies). The phrase does not occur in the Mishnah, and yet by the middle of the third century there was confusion once again (cf. Kuhn, TDNT 6.741-42). The evidence in fact is so slim that it is probable that there never was a technical nuance for the term.

From all these data, there is no solid ground for assuming that “God-fearers” ever took on a technical sense, and even if it did, since Luke omits the object and uses the weaker of two verbs in Acts 17:4, it is doubtful that he means strict monotheists by the term there.

19The 95 mile trip on the Via Egnatia would take five days, round trip. If Paul stayed in Thessalonica twenty-seven days, the Philippians could have sent him funds five times! (Since many of them would have gotten paid daily, they may have wanted to help on a regular basis until he got situated better.)

20Chalmer E. Faw, “On the Writing of First Thessalonians,” JBL 71 (1952) 217-25, makes too much of the evidence when he suggests tha tthe first three chapters are responses to Timothy’s oral report back to Paul, while chapters four and five are Paul’s response to the questions which the Thessalonians had raised themselves. Still, he has correctly detected the (περὶ) δέ structure as showing shifts in topics (analogous to the situaiton in 1 Corinthians), though all of them could have been included in Timothy’s report to Paul.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines

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