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Thessalonians

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THESSALONIANS, Epistles to the. While Paul's authorship of the First Epistle to the Thessalonians has occa sionally been questioned, the consensus of critical opinion is at the present time so nearly unanimous in favor of its genuineness that it seems needless to argue the question at all. The external evidence is strongly favorable: the style and vocabulary are admittedly Paul ine; the doctrinal content, while not very full. is in harmony with Paul's teachings elsewhere; above all, in its whole tone and temper it is unmistakably and inimitably an outpouring of the very heart and soul of the great As concerns the Second Epistle the case stands somewhat differently. Though the external evi dence is even stronger than for the First Epistle, yet its Pauline authorship has been far more disputed. The difficulties which have been raised grow mainly out of its relation to the First Epistle, and practically reduce to three: (1) the resemblance in portions of the two letters, considered by some to be too close to permit us to think of the second as an inde pendent composition; in answer to which it is said that this likeness covers no more than a third of the letter, and may easily be explained in any of many ways, as, for instance, that just before writing Paul might have glanced at a copy of his first letter; (2) the difference in tone and temper of the two letters, Paul seem ing in the second more formal and less cordial and affectionate, a fact for which several ex planations have been offered, as that if the first letter had failed helpfully to affect some of the Thessalonians, he might naturalll, speak in a more formal and distant way in his second letter, or, as Harnack has suggested, this letter may have been intended solely for the Jewish section of the church, while the other was for the main body of the church, which was Gentile in origin, and more loyal to Paul; and (3) the difference in the eschatological teaching, which. however, does not amount to a contradiction, but is to be regarded partly as a correction of a mistmderstanding of the teaching in the first letter, which misunderstanding seems in spite of the correction still to continue in some circles, and partly is an addition of certain elements in Paul's doctrine of the Last Things which had not come out earlier, resulting in an apparent change of emphasis, but not in a real inconsistency. Certainly the difficulties in the way of explaining the letter as a forgery have been. found greater than of accepting it as genume, and consequently the later criticism seems decisively to favor the Pauline author ship of both Epistles.

Date and Place.— From the First Epistle itself in comparison with Acts it is easy to ascertain the date and place of composition. On his second great missionary journey, the second European city in which Paul worked was Thessalonica, the modern Salonilci.

Here he established a church at once, but his very success caused him to be driven from the city after a stay possibly of only three weeks, almost certainly of only about as many months. From there Paul went to Greece, making a short stay at Athens and establishing himself for a year and a half at Corinth. It is plain that Timothy, who was sent back from Athens to visit, comfort and confirm the Thes salonian Church, rejoined Paul at Corinth with his report, and the first letter must have been written almost at once. According to some the second letter followed the first even without waiting for an answer and in any case the interval cannot have been long, a few weelcs at most. The most common dating is in the spring of 51,. but chronologists vary two or three years either way so far as the years to be assigned to the various events of Paul's work are concerned. These Epistles are accord ingly among the very earliest New Testament books, only James and Galatians being con sidered by any to be earlier.

Conditions of Composition.— It is plain from 1 Thessalonians as well as from Acts that the reception of Paul and of his teaching at Thessalonica was peculiarly prompt and cordial. In a very short time a church was established, consisting partly of Jews, but mainly of proselytes and Gentiles, including some of the principal men and women of the city. Paul turned back to Thessalonica as a place where his work had been a peculiar de light, and the mutual affection of the Apostle and his converts must have been unusual. But his stay at the longest had been brief, and in spite of his plans and endeavors he had found it impossible to return, while at the same time he had reason to fear that misrepresentations were being circulated touching both his failure to revisit them and his purposes in his mis sionary work and his relations to his converts. From the report of his messenger Timothy, and possibly from a letter to Paul from the church, quotations from which some have thought they found embedded in this letter, it appeared that on the one hand a certain fanaticism showing itself in immorality and on the other hand a certain doctrinal and spiritual uncertainty had grown up in the Church. It was to remedy those conditions that Paul wrote his first letter. The second is a natural pendent to the first. It is usually held that Paul's letter mainly ac complished its purposes, but that either by the return of the messenger who carried it or by written response from the Thessalonians them selves, Paul learned that some disorders con tinued and that his teaching about the Last Things needed supplementing to correct mis understandings, and thus arose the Second Epistle.

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