Book Summaries

Two letters by the apostle Paul addressed to Christian believers at Thessalonica, in Macedonia; probably the earliest of Paul's preserved epistles. In the earliest Greek manuscripts these 2 epistles bear the simple titles Pros Thessalonikeis A, "To [the] Thessalonians I," and Pros Thessalonikeis B, "To [the] Thessalonians II." No serious challenge has arisen with respect to the fact of the Pauline authorship of the epistles. The famous Muratorian Canon (c. a.d. 170) includes 1 and 2 Th among Paul's letters. Early church writers who discuss the matter, such as Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian--all of whom lived at the close of the 2nd cent. and in the first part of the 3rd--attributed them to Paul. The style of both epistles is wholly in keeping with what is known about him from his other epistles and from the record in Acts, and modern scholars are in general agreement that he was their author. About a.d. 150 Polycarp and Justin Martyr both seem to make reference to passages found in the epistles.

The apostle Paul first proclaimed the gospel at Thessalonica during the course of his 2nd Missionary Journey, probably late in a.d. 50 or early the following year (see Chronology, IX, 7). On 3 successive Sabbaths Paul preached in the synagogue from the OT Scriptures, proving Jesus Christ to be the Messiah for whom the Jewish people had been looking (Acts 17:2, 3). Some Jews and a large number of Greek proselytes accepted Paul's message (v 4), and these believers he organised into a church. The church there seems to have been largely Gentile in composition (see 1 Th 1:9; cf. 4:5). Furious at his success, doubtless, especially in making Gentile converts (see 1 Th 2:16), the unbelieving Jews raised a riot against him, charging him with sedition and compelling him to leave the city (Acts 17:5 ­10). Going on to Beroea, Paul was pursued by the unbelieving Jews of Thessalonica (vs. 10, 13); he was forced to depart from that city also, but he left Silas and Timothy there (v 14). He went on to Athens, but had no sooner arrived than he sent for Silas and Timothy to join him there (v 15). From 1 Th 3:1, 2 it appears that he sent Timothy back from Athens to Thessalonica to give further instruction to the believers there; when Silas and Timothy rejoined Paul he had already gone on to Corinth (Acts 18:1, 5; cf. 1 Th 3:1 ­6). Soon after Timothy's return from Thessalonica to Corinth Paul wrote the 1st of the Thessalonian letters (1 Th 1:1; 2:17; 3:6 ­10). Paul earnestly longed to return to Thessalonica himself, but was hindered by Satan (ch 2:17, 18). When the bearer of the 1st epistle returned from Thessalonica and Paul learned that certain of his statements relative to the imminence of the 2nd Advent were being misunderstood and misapplied by some in the church, he addressed the 2nd epistle to them, clarifying these and other points of doctrine. The 2nd epistle was written probably a few months after the first, while Paul was still busily engaged in establishing the Corinthian church.

The earnestness and zeal with which the Thessalonian believers had adopted the Christian faith is reflected in Paul's gracious words of commendation to them in 1 Th 1:1 ­4. He treasures the memory of their strong faith and their zealous labours of love, which testified to their patient hope in Christ. With ardent love the apostle cherished the new converts as a nurse does the children under her care, and was "affectionately desirous" of them (ch 2:7, 8). He had, indeed, imparted to them his own soul (v 8), labouring night and day on their behalf (v 9). The bonds of affection that bound him to the Thessalonian believers were deep and enduring. He repeatedly mentions the persecution they endured, particularly at the hands of unbelieving Jews (see 1 Th 1:6; 2:14 ­16; cf. Acts 17:5, 6).

There were, nevertheless, certain tendencies among the believers at Thessalonica that called for reproof and further instruction with respect both to certain points of doctrine and to practical Christian living. For example, some were neglecting their daily work and depending upon others for support, apparently misled by a fanatical anticipation of the near coming of Christ. Paul commanded such to earn their livelihood with their own hands (1 Th 4:11, 12; cf. 2 Th 3:11, 12). Either there was some laxness in morals (1 Th 4:3 ­5) and carelessness in business dealings (vs. 6 ­9), or else Paul, mindful of their heathen background, warned them against lowering their new standards. The apostle's hasty departure from Thessalonica had evidently interrupted his instruction of them; certainly they had erroneous ideas regarding the return of Christ and the resurrection; some were now grieving over loved ones whom they had laid to rest since Paul's departure who had apparently expected to live until the coming of Jesus (v 13). This afforded him an opportunity to write what has proved to be one of the two most glorious NT passages that breathe joyous assurance in the resurrection (1 Th 4:14 ­18; cf. 1 Cor 15).

In his 2nd letter to Thessalonica the apostle continues his instruction about the day of judgement (2 Th 1:5 ­10). On the basis of something Paul had told them either while still in Thessalonica or in his 1st epistle, or from statements in some of the spurious epistles, the believers there had concluded that the day of Christ was even then at hand (ch 2:2). In order to clear up this misconception Paul enters upon a somewhat extended discourse concerning the great apostasy that is to precede Christ's return (vs. 3 ­11). He repeats his former counsel to those who were living in idleness (ch 3:6 ­12). The stubbornness of some members of this group is reflected in v 14. If they persist in their obdurate course the rest of the believers are to have nothing to do with them. Such misguided ones, however, are not to be treated as enemies but to be warned as brothers (v 15).

The two Thessalonian letters may be summarised as follows: After a brief salutation (1 Th 1:1), Paul reviews his ministry to the Thessalonians and his relations with them in times past (chs 1:2 to 3:13). He greatly appreciates their fellowship in the gospel (ch 1:2 ­10), looks back with joy upon his ministry among them (ch 2:1 ­16) and regrets that he has had no further opportunity to visit them (vs. 17 ­20). Instead he has sent Timothy in his place, and explains the purpose and the result of Timothy's visit (ch 3:1 ­13). The remainder of the epistle (chs 4:1 to 5:28) consists of instructions and exhortations on sanctification and on brotherly love (ch 4:1 ­10), on diligence in self-support (vs. 10 ­12), on the resurrection (vs. 13 ­18), and on the time of Christ's coming (ch 5:1 ­11). The epistle closes with a series of admonitions to faithfulness and godly living (vs. 12 ­22), with a prayer for their spiritual welfare, and with greetings (vs. 23 ­28). In his 2nd epistle, Paul commends the Thessalonians for their growth in faith and brotherly love and for their patient endurance in the midst of persecution (2 Th 1:1 ­4). From tribulation he turns their thoughts forward to the return of the Lord and to the glorification of Christ in His saints (vs. 5 ­12). He goes on to instruction regarding the Antichrist, the "man of sin," whose rebellion and revelation must precede the 2nd Advent, and warns against fanaticism regarding the time of Christ's coming (ch 2:1 ­12), in view of which he admonishes them to stand fast in the faith (vs. 13 ­17). In ch 3 he requests their prayers, expresses confidence in them, and exhorts them to exemplary living (vs. 1 ­15). The epistle closes with a prayer, with his personal greetings, and with a benediction (vs. 16 ­18).

Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.