Easton's Bible Dictionary
The first epistle to the Thessalonians was the first
of all Paul's epistles. It was in all probability written from Corinth, where
he abode a "long time" ( Acts 18:11 , 18:18 ), early in the period of his residence
there, about the end of A.D. 52.
The occasion of its being written was the return of Timotheus from Macedonia,
bearing tidings from Thessalonica regarding the state of the church there ( Acts
18:1 - 5 ; 1 Thessalonians 3:6 ). While, on the whole, the report of Timothy was
encouraging, it also showed that divers errors and misunderstandings regarding
the tenor of Paul's teaching had crept in amongst them. He addresses them in this
letter with the view of correcting these errors, and especially for the purpose
of exhorting them to purity of life, reminding them that their sanctification
was the great end desired by God regarding them.
The subscription erroneously states that this epistle was written from Athens.
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
Smith's Bible Dictionary
was written by the apostle Paul at Corinth, a few months
after he had founded the church at Thessalonica, at the close of the year A.D.
62 or the beginning of 53. The Epistles to the Thessalonians, then (for the second
followed the first after no long interval), are the earliest of St. Pauls writings
--perhaps the earliest written records of Christianity. It is interesting, therefore,
to compare the Thessalonian epistles with the later letters, and to note the points
of These differences are mainly
|(1) In the general style of these earlier letters there
is greater simplicity and less exuberance of language.
(2) The antagonism to St. Paul is not the same. Here the opposition comes from
Jews. A period of five years changes the aspect of the controversy. The opponents
of St. Paul are then no longer Jews so much as Judaizing Christians .
Many of the distinctive doctrines of Christianity were yet not evolved and distinctly
enunciated till the needs of the Church drew them out into prominence at a later
date. It has often been observed, for instance, that there is in the Epistles
to the Thessalonians no mention of the characteristic contrast of "faith and works;"
that the word "justification" does not once occur; that the idea of dying with
Christ and living with Christ, so frequent in St. Pauls later writings, is absent
in these. In the Epistles to the Thessalonians, the gospel preached is that of
the coming of Christ, rather than of the cross of Christ. The occasion of this
epistle was as follows: St. Paul had twice attempted to re-visit Thessalonica,
and both times had been disappointed. Thus prevented from seeing them in person,
he had sent Timothy to inquire and report to him as to their condition. ( 1 Thessalonians
3:1 - 6 ) Timothy returned with more favorable tidings, reporting not only their
progress in Christian faith and practice, but also their strong attachment to
their old teacher. ( 1 Thessalonians 3:6 - 10 ) The First Epistle to the Thessalonians
is the outpouring of the apostles gratitude on receiving this welcome news. At
the same time there report of Timothy was not unmixed with alloy. There were certain
features in the condition of the Thessalonian church which called for St. Pauls
interference and to which he addresses himself in his letter.
The very intensity of their Christian faith, dwelling too exclusively on the day
of the Lords coming, had been attended with evil consequences. On the other hand,
a theoretical difficulty had been felt. Certain members of the church had died,
and there was great anxiety lest they should be excluded from any share in the
glories of the Lords advent. ch. ( 1 Thessalonians 4:13 - 18 ) The Thessalonians
needed consolation and encouragement under persecution. ch. ( 1 Thessalonians
2:14 ; 3:2 - 4 )
An unhealthy state of feeling with regard to spiritual gifts was manifesting itself.
ch. ( 1 Thessalonians 6:19, 6:20 )
There was the danger of relapsing into their old heathen profligacy. ch. ( 1 Thessalonians
4:4 - 8 ) Yet notwithstanding all these drawbacks, the condition of the Thessalonian
church was highly satisfactory, and the most cordial relations existed between
St. Paul and his converts there. This honorable distinction it shares with the
other great church of Macedonia, that of Philippi. The epistle is rather practical
than doctrinal. The external evidence in favor of the genuineness of the First
Epistle to the Thessalonians is chiefly negative, but this is important enough.
There is no trace that it was ever disputed at any age or in any section of the
Church, or even by any individual till the present century. Toward the close of
the second century from Irenaeus downward. we find this epistle directly quoted
and ascribed to Paul. The evidence derived from the character of the epistle itself
is so strong that it may fairly be called irresistible.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
I. IMPORTANCE OF THE EPISTLE
The letter is especially important as a witness to the content of the earliest
Gospel, on account of its date and its well-nigh unchallenged authenticity. According
to Harnack it was written in the year 48 AD; according to Zahn, in the year 53.
It is likely that these two dates represent the extreme limits. We are thus justified
in saying with confidence that we have before us a document that could not have
been written more than 24 years, and may very easily have been written but 19
years, after the ascension of our Lord. This is a fact of great interest in view
of the contention that the Jesus of the four Gospels is a product of the legend-making
propensity of devout souls in the latter part of the 1st century. When we remember
that Paul was converted more than 14 years before the writing of the Epistles,
and that he tells us that his conversion was of such an overwhelming nature as
to impel him in a straight course from which he never varied, and when we note
that at the end of 14 years Peter and John, having fully heard the gospel which
he preached, had no corrections to offer (Galatians 1:11 - 2:10, especially 2:6
- 10), we see that the view of Christ and His message given in this Epistle traces
itself back into the very presence of the most intimate friends of Jesus. It is
not meant by this that the words of Paul or the forms of his teaching are reproductions
of things Jesus said in the days of His flesh, but rather that the conception
which is embodied in the Epistle of the person of Christ and of His relation to
the Father, and of His relation also to the church and to human destiny, is rooted
in Christ's own self-revelation.
II. CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE FOUNDING OF THE CHURCH
1. Luke's Narrative in Acts:
For the founding of the church we have two sources of information, the Book of
Acts and the Epistle itself. Luke's narrative is found in Acts 17. Here we are
told that Paul, after leaving Philippi, began his next siege against entrenched
paganism in the great market center of Thessalonica. He went first into the synagogues
of the Jews, and for three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures.
Some of them, Luke tells us, "were persuaded, and consorted with Paul and Silas;
and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few."
This very naturally excited the jealousy of the Jews who found themselves losing
the social prestige that came from having a large number of Greeks, including
some of the nobility, resorting to them for instruction. Accordingly, they raised
a mob of the worst men in town and brought the leading members of the church before
the magistrate. These brethren, Jason and certain others, who seem to have been
men of some property, were compelled to give bond to preserve the peace, and the
intense feeling against Paul made it necessary for him, for the sake of these
brethren as well as for his personal safety, to flee from the city.
2. Confirmation of Luke's Narrative in the Epistle:
The historicity of Luke's story of the founding of the church is strongly supported
by the text of the Epistle. Paul, for instance, notes that the work in Thessalonica
began after they had been shamefully entreated at Philippi (1 Thessalonians 2:2).
He bears witness also in the same verse to the conflict in the midst of which
the Thessalonian church was founded (see also 1 Thessalonians 2:14). Paul's exhortation
to salute all the brethren with a holy kiss, his solemn adjuration that this letter
be read unto all the brethren (1 Thessalonians 5:26 , 27), and his exhortation
to despise not prophesying (1 Thessalonians 5:20) are harmonious with Luke's account
of the very diverse social elements out of which the church was formed: diversities
that would very easily give rise to a disposition on the part of the more aristocratic
to neglect the cordial greetings to the poorer members, and to despise their uncouth
testimonies to the grace of God that had come to them (Acts 17:4).
Paul tells us that he was forced to labor for his daily bread at Thessalonica
(1 Thessalonians 2:9). Luke does not make mention of this, but he tells us of
his work at tent-making in the next town where he made a considerable stop (Acts
18:1 - 3), and thus each statement makes the other probable.
Perhaps, however, the most marked corroboration of the Acts which we have in the
letter is the general harmony of its revelation of the character of Paul with
that of the Acts. The reminiscences of Paul's work among them (1 Thessalonians
2:1 - 12) correspond, for instance, in a marked way, in essence though not in
style and vocabulary, with Luke's report of Paul's account of the method and spirit
of his work at Ephesus (Acts 20:17 - 35). This, however, is only one of many correspondences
which could be pointed out and which will at once be evident to anyone who will
read the letter, and then go over Acts 13 - 28.
It may seem irrelevant thus to emphasize the historicity of Acts in an article
on Thessalonians, but the witness of the Epistle to the historicity of the Gospels
and of Acts is for the present moment one of its most important functions.
III. CONDITIONS IN THE THESSALONIAN CHURCH AS INDICATED IN THE LETTER
A New Testament epistle bears a close resemblance to a doctor's prescription.
It relates itself to the immediate situation of the person to whom it is directed.
If we study it we can infer with a great deal of accuracy the tendencies, good
or bad, in the church. What revelation of the conditions at Thessalonica is made
in the First Epistle? Plainly, affairs on the whole are in a very good state,
especially when one takes into account the fact that most of the members had been
out of heathenism but a few months. They were so notably devoted to God that they
were known all over Macedonia as examples to the church (1 Thessalonians 1:7).
In particular the Christian grace of cordial good will toward all believers flourished
among them: a grace which they doubtless had good opportunity to exercise in this
great market town to which Christians from all parts would resort on business
errands and where there would be constant demands on their hospitality (1 Thessalonians
4:9 - 10).
There were, however, shadows in the picture. Some persons were whispering dark
suspicions against Paul. Perhaps, as Zahn suggests, they were the unbelieving
husbands of the rich ladies who had become members of the church. It was in answer
to these criticisms that he felt called upon to say that he was not a fanatic
nor a moral leper, nor a deceiver (1 Thessalonians 2:3). When he is so careful
to remind them that he was not found at any time wearing a cloak of covetousness,
but rather went to the extreme of laboring night and day that he might not be
chargeable to any of them (1 Thessalonians 2:9), we may be sure that the Christians
were hearing constant jibes about their money-making teacher who had already worked
his scheme with the Philippians so successfully that they had twice sent him a
contribution (Philippians 4:16). Paul's peculiar sensitiveness on this point at
Corinth (1 Corinthians 9:14 , 15) was possibly in part the result of his immediately
preceding experiences at Thessalonica.
One wonders whether Greece was not peculiarly infested at this time with wandering
philosophers and religious teachers who beat their way as best they could, living
on the credulity of the unwary.
Paul's anxiety to assure them of his intense desire to see them and his telling
of his repeated attempts to come to them (1 Thessalonians 2:17 - 20) show rather
plainly also that his absence had given rise to the suspicion that he was afraid
to come back, or indeed quite indifferent about revisiting them. "We would fain
have come unto you," he says, "I Paul once and again; and Satan hindered us."
Some also were saying that Paul was a flatterer (1 Thessalonians 2:5), who was
seeking by this means to carry out unworthy ends. This sneer indeed, after the
reading of the letter, would come quite naturally to the superficial mind. Paul's
amazing power to idealize his converts and see them in the light of their good
intentions and of the general goal and trend of their minds is quite beyond the
appreciation of a shallow and sardonic soul.
More than this, we can see plain evidence that the church was in danger of the
chronic heathen vice of unchastity (1 Thessalonians 4:3 - 8). The humble members
also, in particular, were in danger of being intoxicated by the new intellectual
and spiritual life into which they had been inducted by the gospel, and were spending
their time in religious meetings to the neglect of their daily labor (1 Thessalonians
4:10 - 12). Moreover, some who had lost friends since their baptism were mourning
lest at the second coming of Christ these who had fallen asleep would not share
in the common glory (1 Thessalonians 4:13 - 18). This is a quaint proof of the
immaturity of their view of Christ, as though a physical accident could separate
from His love and care. There was likewise, as suggested above, the ever-present
danger of social cliques among the members (1 Thessalonians 5:13 , 15 , 20 , 26
, 27). It is to this condition of things that Paul pours forth this amazingly
vital and human Epistle.
IV. ANALYSIS WIENER, ORIGIN OF THE PENTATEUCH THE EPISTLE
The letter may be divided in several ways. Perhaps as simple a way as any is that
which separates it into two main divisions.
| (1) First, Paul's past and present relations
with the Thessalonians, and his love for them (1 Thessalonians 1:1 - 3:13):
|(1) Greeting and Thanksgiving (1 Thessalonians 1:1 - 10).
(2) Paul reminds them of the character of his life and ministry among them (1
Thessalonians 2:1 - 12).
(3) The sufferings of the Thessalonians the same as those endured by their Jewish
brethren (1 Thessalonians 2:13 - 16).
(4) Paul's efforts to see them (1 Thessalonians 2:17 - 20).
(5) Paul's surrender of his beloved helper in order to learn the state of the
Thessalonian church, and his joy over the good news which Timothy brought (1 Thessalonians
3:1 - 13).
(2) Second, exhortations against vice, and comfort and warning in view of
the coming of Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:1 - 5 , 28):
|(1) Against gross vice (1 Thessalonians 4:1 - 8).
(2) Against idleness (1 Thessalonians 4:9 - 12).
(3) Concerning those who have fallen asleep (1 Thessalonians 4:13 - 18).
(4) Concerning the true way to watch for the Coming (1 Thessalonians 5:1 - 11).
(5) Sundry exhortations (1 Thessalonians 5:12 - 28).
V. DOCTRINAL IMPLICATIONS OF THE EPISTLE
The Epistle to the Thessalonians is not a doctrinal letter. Paul's great teaching
concerning salvation by faith alone, apart from the works of the Law, is not sharply
defined or baldly stated, and the doctrine of the cross of Christ as central in
Christianity is here implied rather than enforced. Almost the only doctrinal statement
is that which assures them that those of their number who had fallen asleep would
not in any wise be shut out from the rewards and glories at Christ's second coming
(1 Thessalonians 4:13 - 18). But while the main doctrinal positions of Paul are
not elaborated or even stated in the letter, it may safely be said that the Epistle
could scarcely have been written by one who denied those teachings. And the fact
that we know that shortly before or shortly after Paul wrote the Epistle to the
Galatians, and the fact that he so definitely describes his attitude at this very
time toward the preaching of the cross of Christ, in his reminiscences in 1 Corinthians
(see especially 1 Corinthians 2:1 - 5), show how foolish it is to assume that
an author has not yet come to a position because he does not constantly obtrude
it in all that he writes.
The Epistle, however, bears abundant evidence to the fact that this contemporary
of Jesus had seen in the life and character and resurrection of Jesus that which
caused him to exalt Him to divine honors, to mention Him in the same breath with
God the Father, and to expect His second coming in glory as the event which would
determine the destiny of all men and be the final goal of history. As such the
letter, whose authenticity is now practically unquestioned, is a powerful proof
that Jesus was a personality as extraordinary as the Jesus of the first three
Gospels. And even the Christ of the Fourth Gospel is scarcely more exalted than
He who now with God the Father constitutes the spiritual atmosphere in which Christians
exist (1 Thessalonians 1:1), and who at the last day will descend from heaven
with a shout and with the voice of an archangel and the trump of God, and cause
the dead in Christ to rise from their tombs to dwell forever with Himself (1 Thessalonians
4:16 , 17).
VI. THE EPISTLE'S REVELATIONS OF PAUL'S CHARACTERISTICS
We notice in the letter the extreme tactfulness of Paul. He has some plain and
humiliating warnings to give, but he precedes them in each case with affectionate
recognition of the good qualities of the brethren. Before he warns against gross
vice he explains that he is simply urging them to continue in the good way they
are in. Before he urges them to go to work he cordially recognizes the love that
has made them linger so long and so frequently at the common meeting-places. And
when in connection with his exhortations about the second coming he alludes to
the vice of drunkenness, he first idealizes them as sons of the light and of the
day to whom, of course, the drunken orgies of those who are "of the night" would
be unthinkable. Thus by a kind of spiritual suggestion he starts them in the right
Bishop Alexander, the Speaker's Commentary (published in America under the title,
The Bible Comm., and bound with most excellent commentaries on all of the Pauline
Epistles), New York, Scribners; Milligan, The Epistles to the Thessalonians (the
Greek text with Introduction and notes), London, Macmillan; Moffatt, The Expositor's
Greek Test. (bound with commentaries by various authors on the Pastoral Epistles,
Philemon, Hebrews and James), New York, Dodd, Mead and Co.; Frame, ICC, New York,
Scribners; Stevens, An American Commentary on the New Testament, Philadelphia,
American Baptist Publication Society; Adeney, The New Century Bible, "1 and 2
Thessalonians" and "Galatians," New York, Henry Frowde; Findlay, "The Epistles
to the Thessalonians," Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, New York, Putnams;
James Denney, "The Epistles to the Thessalonians," Expositor's Bible, New York,
Doran; the two latter are especially recommended as inexpensive, popular and yet
scholarly commentaries. The Cambridge Bible is a verse-by-verse commentary, and
Professor Denney on "Thess" in Expositor's Bible is one of the most vital and
vigorous pieces of homiletical exposition known to the present writer.
Rollin Hough Walker
apostle paul (author), apostle paul's first epistle, bible commentary, bible reference, bible study, book of 1 thessalonians, first epistle to the thessalonians, christian conduct, new testament, thessalonian church, timothy