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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges
2 Thessalonians

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THE General Editor does not hold himself responsible, except in the most general sense, for the statements, opinions, and interpretations contained in the several volumes of this Series. He believes that the value of the Introduction and the Commentary in each case is largely dependent on the Editor being free as to his treatment of the questions which arise, provided that that treatment is in harmony with the character and scope of the Series. He has therefore contented himself with offering criticisms, urging the consideration of alternative interpretations, and the like; and as a rule he has left the adoption of these suggestions to the discretion of the Editor.

The Greek Text adopted in this Series is that of Dr Westcott and Dr Hort. For permission to use this Text the thanks of the Syndics of the University Press and of the General Editor are due to Messrs Macmillan & Co.



27 October, 1904.


THIS is substantially a new work, designed for the Greek Testament student as the previous volume from the same hand, in the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges [1891], was written for the student of the English Bible. The first four chapters of the Introduction, and the Appendix, bear indeed identical titles in each book; but their matter has been rewritten and considerably extended. The Exposition is recast throughout. Literary illustration from English sources has been discarded, so that full attention might be given to the details of Greek construction and verbal usage. The train of thought in the original text is tracked out as closely as possible—the analyses prefixed to the successive sections will, it is hoped, be useful for this purpose; and the historical and local setting of the Epistles is brought to bear on their elucidation at all available points. In particular, the researches made of recent years into Jewish apocalyptic literature have thrown some fresh light on the obscurities of St Paul’s eschatology.

Two Commentaries of first-rate importance have appeared during the last dozen years, of which the writer has made constant use: viz. the precious Notes on the Epistles of St Paul bequeathed to us by the late Bishop Lightfoot, in which 123 out of 324 pages are devoted to 1 and 2 Thessalonians; and Bornemann’s interpretation contained in the fifth and sixth editions of Meyer’s Kommentar, a work as able and judicious as it is laborious and complete. At the same time, one reverts with increasing satisfaction to the old interpreters; frequent quotations are here made from the Latin translators—Erasmus, Calvin, Beza, Estius, Bengel, beside the ancient Versions—who in many instances are able to render the Greek with a brevity and nicety attainable in no other tongue.





AMONGST the great cities of the ancient world in which the Apostle Paul lived and laboured, two still remain as places of capital importance—Rome and Thessalonica. The latter has maintained its identity as a provincial metropolis and an emporium of Mediterranean traffic, with singularly little change, for above two thousand years. Along with its capital, the province of Macedonia to this day retains the name and the geographical limits under which St Paul knew it sixty generations ago. At the present moment (May, 1903) “Salonika” (or Saloniki, Σαλονίκη in vulgar Greek, Turkish Selanik) supplies a conspicuous heading in our newspapers, being the focus of the renewed struggle between the Cross and the Crescent, and a mark of the political and commercial ambitions which animate the Great Powers of Europe and the Lesser Powers of the Balkan Peninsula, in the disturbed condition of the Turkish Empire.

This town first appears in Greek history under the name of Therma (Θέρμα, Θέρμη), “Hot-well,” having been so entitled from the springs found in its vicinity (cf. Κρηνίδες, the older name of Philippi). According to Herodotus (VII. 121), Xerxes when invading Greece made its harbour the head-quarters of his fleet. On the site of Therma Θεσσαλονίκη (Θεσσαλονίκεια in Strabo) was built in the year 315 B.C. by Cassander, the brother-in-law of Alexander the Great, who seized the throne of Macedonia soon after the conqueror’s death. Cassander named the new foundation, probably, after his royal wife (see Diodorus Siculus, XIX. 52). The new title first appears in Polybius’ Histories (XXIII. 4. 4, &c., as Θετταλονίκη). On the Roman conquest of Macedonia in 168 B.C., the kingdom was broken up into four semi-independent republics, and Thessalonica was made the capital of one of these. In the year 146, when the province was formally annexed to the Empire, the four districts were reunited, and this city became the centre of Roman administration and the μητρόπολις of the entire region. The Romans made of its excellent harbour a naval station, furnished with docks (Livy XLIV. 10). Through this city passed the Via Egnatia, the great military highway from Dyrrachium which formed the land-route between Rome and the East, and ran parallel to the maritime line of communication crossing the mid-Ægean by way of Corinth. On the termination of the civil war which ended with the defeat of Brutus and Cassius at Philippi in 42 B.C., when it had fortunately sided with the victors, Thessalonica was declared a libera urbs, or liberœ condicionis (Pliny N. H. IV. 10 [17]); hence it had its recognized δῆμος and its elective πολιτάρχαι1[1967]. Its use affords a fine test of the circumstantial accuracy of St Luke.</sub>">[1] (Acts 17:5-8). Its coins bear the inscription Θεσσαλονικέων ἐλευθερίᾳ. “The whole city was essentially Greek, not Roman as Philippi was” (Lightfoot). At the same time the city depended on the imperial favour, and was jealous of anything that might touch the susceptibilities of the Government; the charge of treason framed against the Christian missionaries was the most dangerous that could have been raised in such a place.

At this epoch Thessalonica was a flourishing and populous city. The geographer Strabo, St Paul’s contemporary, describes it as the one amongst Macedonian towns ἣ νῦν μάλιστα τῶν ἄλλων εὐανδρεῖ (VII. 7. 4); and Lucian writes, a century later, πόλεως τῶν ἐν ΄ακεδονίᾳ τῆς μεγίστης Θεσσαλονικῆς (Asinus, 46); Theodoret refers to it in similar terms in the fifth century. At the beginning of the tenth century it is computed to have held 200,000 souls. To-day its population numbers something under 100,000; but it is in size the third, and in importance quite the second, city of Turkey in Europe. The Jews count for more than half its inhabitants, and have about 30 synagogues; Thessalonica is, in fact, the most Jewish of all the larger towns of Europe. The bulk of these however form a modern settlement, dating from the expulsion of this people by Ferdinand of Spain toward the end of the 15th century. The Christians—mainly Greeks or Bulgars—amount to only a fifth of the present population, the Turks being equally numerous. The people are largely occupied, as in the Apostle’s time (1 Thessalonians 4:11), in small manufactures along with commerce.

Thessalonica owes its commercial and political importance to the ‘coign of vantage’ that it holds in the Balkan peninsula. “So long as nature does not change, Thessalonica will remain wealthy and fortunate.” Situated midway by land between the Adriatic and the Hellespont and occupying the sheltered recess of the Thermaic Gulf (now the Gulf of Saloniki) at the north-western corner of the Ægean Sea, it formed the natural outlet for the traffic of Macedonia, and the point toward which the chief roads from the north through the Balkan passes converged (hence supplying the terminus of the modern line of railway running south to the Mediterranean from Vienna through Belgrade). This was one of those strategic points in the Gentile mission whose value St Paul’s keen eye at once discerned and whose occupation gave him the greatest satisfaction—“Thessalonicenses positi in gremio imperii nostri,” says Cicero. From Thessalonica “there sounded out the word of the Lord in every place” (1 Thessalonians 1:8); here many ways met, and from this centre “the word of the Lord” was likely to “run and be glorified” (2 Thessalonians 3:1).

The site of the town is fine and commanding. It rises from the harbour like an amphitheatre, covering a sloping hill-side from which it looks out to the south-west over the waters of the Gulf, with the snowy heights of Mount Olympus, the fabled home of the Greek gods, closing its horizon, while it is guarded by high mountain ridges upon both sides.

From the time of its occupation by the Romans, the historical associations of the city become numerous and interesting. Cicero spent some months at Thessalonica in exile during the year 58 B.C., and halted here on the way to and from his province of Cilicia (51–50 A.D.), dating from this place some characteristic letters, which might profitably be compared with these of the Apostle addressed to the same city. At Thessalonica he was found again in the winter of 49–48 with Pompey’s army, which pitched its camp there before the fatal battle of Pharsalus. Six years later Octavian and Antony encamped in the same spot, preparing to encounter the republican leaders, whom they defeated at Philippi. The most notable disaster of Thessalonica was the massacre of 15,000 of its inhabitants ordered by Theodosius the Great in revenge for some affront inflicted upon him during an uproar in the city (390 A.D.), for which crime St Ambrose, the great Bishop of Milan, compelled the Emperor to do abject penance, refusing him absolution for eight months until he submitted.

In Church history Thessalonica bears the honourable name of “the orthodox city,” as having proved itself a bulwark of the Catholic faith and of the Greek Christian Empire through the early middle ages[2]. It was an active centre of missionary labour amongst the Goths, and subsequently amongst the Slavonic invaders of the Balkan peninsula, from whose ravages the city suffered severely. In the roll of its Bishops, there is one name of the first rank, that of Eustathius († 1198 A.D.), who was the most learned Greek scholar of his age and an enlightened Church reformer; it is still a metropolitan Greek see, claiming a succession continuous from the Apostolic days. The Norman Crusader, Tancred of Sicily, wrested the city from the Greek Emperor in 1185, and it remained for a considerable time under the Latin rule; in 1422, after several vicissitudes, it passed into the hands of the Venetians. They in turn were compelled in 1430 to yield it to the Turks, who effected here their first secure lodgement in Europe half a century before the fall of Constantinople. The city had been captured by the Saracens, in a memorable siege, as early as the year 904, but was only held by them for a while.

Thessalonica till lately possessed three ancient and beautiful Greek churches turned into mosques,—those of St Sophia, St George, and St Demetrius. The first of these, which as a monument and treasury of Byzantine art was inferior only to St Sophia of Constantinople was destroyed in the great fire of September 4th, 1890.



IT was in the course of his second great missionary expedition that the Apostle Paul planted the standard of the Cross in Europe, in the year of our Lord 51[3] or thereabouts. Setting out from Antioch in Syria, he had taken the prophet Silas of Jerusalem (Silvanus of the Epistles) for his companion, on the occasion of the παροξυσμός between himself and Barnabas which arose at this juncture (Acts 15:32-41). The young Timothy was enlisted as their assistant, in place of John Mark, a little later in the journey (Acts 16:1-3). The province of Asia, with Ephesus for its capital where St Paul afterwards spent three fruitful years, was the primary objective of this campaign. But after traversing South Galatia and revisiting the Churches founded in this region (by Paul and Barnabas) on the previous journey, the Apostles were “forbidden by the Holy Ghost to speak the word in Asia,” so that, instead of continuing their travels further west, they struck across the peninsula to the north; and being again checked by the Spirit when crossing into Bithynia, they changed their route a second time and finally arrived at Troas, the north-western port of Asia Minor. It has been commonly supposed that during this part of his travels St Paul founded in Galatia proper (i.e. in the north or north-west of the extensive Roman province then known by this name[4]) the Churches addressed in the Epistle πρὸς Γαλάτας; but St Luke’s indications in Acts 16:6-8 are slight and cursory, so that both the route followed and the time occupied on this part of the tour are uncertain. If the evangelization of the “Galatians” of the Epistle was effected at this period, through the delay caused by the illness of the Apostle Paul in their country (Galatians 4:12-15), we must allow for a considerable period, perhaps the winter of 50–51, spent in North Galatia before the three missionaries reached the terminus of their journey through Asia Minor and St Paul heard the cry of the “man of Macedonia” which summoned him to cross the sea into Europe (Acts 16:9-12). It was at Troas that the true goal of this decisive journey disclosed itself, the reason of God’s repeated interference with His servant’s designs. In Macedonia the Gospel was to find a congenial soil and a prepared people; and Thessalonica was to furnish a centre, far in advance of any post hitherto occupied by the Gentile mission, from which the new faith would spread widely and rapidly through the adjacent provinces situated at the heart of the Roman Empire.

The story of the missionaries’ voyage across the Ægean, their journey inland to Philippi, their success and their sufferings in that city, so graphically related by St Luke who had joined the company at Troas and writes Acts 16:10-40 as an eye-witness, need not be repeated. Only one reference the Apostle makes in these Letters to his experience at Philippi; it is such as to show that he and Silas, instead of being daunted by their rough handling in that town, entered on their mission at Thessalonica with high spirit and in the assurance that the hand of God was with them (1 Thessalonians 2:1-2). From the allusion made in Philippians 4:16, written many years later, we gather that St Paul received help twice over from his friends in Philippi during the time of his first visit to Macedonia. “Even in Thessalonica,” he writes, “you sent to supply my need both once and twice.”

Thessalonica lay a hundred miles west of Philippi along the Via Egnatia, a distance of three days’ journey. “Amphipolis and Apollonia” appear in Acts 17:1 as the chief towns and halting-places on the way. These were both inland towns,—the former a place of importance, which had played a considerable part in earlier Greek history. Probably neither contained a Jewish colony, such as might have supplied a starting-point for missionary work. Entering the streets of Thessalonica the Apostle found himself in a Greek commercial city with a large infusion of Jewish immigrants, resembling Tarsus, his native town, and Antioch where he had ministered for so long. At the western (Vardar) gate, by which the travellers must have left the city, an arch may still be traced[5] commemorating the victory of Philippi; this monument, if not so old as St Paul’s time, dates but little later.

We have described in chapter I. the position of Thessalonica and its growing importance as a centre of trade and population. There was another circumstance which gave the missionaries of Christ a vantage-ground here. At Philippi the Jews were not numerous or wealthy enough to boast a synagogue: they only had a προσευχή, a retired oratory, “by the river-side,” probably open to the air (Acts 16:13). But in Thessalonica “there was a synagogue of the Jews”; and the Israelite community had gathered about it a number of attached proselytes, and exerted considerable influence over its compatriots in other districts of the province: see Acts 17:1-4; Acts 17:13. Paul and Silas might not expect to gain many converts from the synagogue itself; the readiest hearers of the Gospel were found in the circle of devout and enlightened Gentiles who had been attracted toward Judaism, and yet were only half satisfied by it, men weary of heathen superstition and philosophy and more or less instructed in the Old Testament, but not prepossessed by the ingrained prejudice, the pride of Abrahamic descent, and the scorn of a crucified Messiah, which closed the ears of the Jews everywhere against the apostolic message. From this outlying constituency of proselytes and synagogue-frequenters, amongst which not seldom there were found, as at Thessalonica (Acts 17:4), a number of the more refined and intelligent Greek women of the upper classes, St Paul gathered the nucleus of his Churches. His success in this field and the fact that he robbed Judaism thereby of its most valued and liberal adherents, who were the evidence of its power and religious value to the eyes of the Gentile world, explain the bitter resentment, the blind hatred and rancour, with which St Paul was pursued wherever he moved by the Hellenist Jews (see Acts 21:28; Acts 24:5). Here in Thessalonica, while “some” of the Jews “were persuaded and consorted with Paul and Silas,” a “great multitude of the devout Greeks[6]” accepted the Gospel, “and of the first women (the ladies, as we should say, of the city: γυναικῶν τῶν πρώτων) not a few.” The Apostles felt it a duty—and to this they were prompted by the best feelings of their hearts (Romans 9:1-3)—to appeal “to the Jew first,” however often they were repelled in doing so; hence “according to Paul’s custom he went in unto them [the Jews], and for three sabbaths discoursed with them from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:2). Considering the three heads of discourse indicated by the historian in conjunction with the “three sabbaths” over which St Paul’s Scriptural argument extended (ἐπὶ σάββατα τρία), it looks as though he had advanced his proof in three successive stages: “opening and laying before” his fellow Israelites [1] the general doctrine of a suffering Messiah (ὅτι τὸν χριστὸν ἔδει παθεῖν), and [2] of the Messiah’s resurrection (καὶ ἀναστῆναι ἐκ νεκρῶν); then proceeding [3] to identify “this Jesus whom I proclaim to you” with the suffering and risen Christ, whose image he had drawn from Scripture (καὶ ὅτι οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ χριστός, ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὃν ἐγὼ καταγγέλλω ὑμῖν). For two sabbaths the synagogue listened with toleration, perhaps with curiosity, to the abstract exegetical theorem; but when it came to clinching the matter by evidence given that the suffering and rising Christ of the prophets is none other than Jesus of Nazareth, the man who was twenty years before condemned by the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem as a blasphemer and crucified by the Roman Governor at the people’s request, their patience was at an end. Yet it was not so much the advocacy of the claims of the Nazarene addressed to themselves, as the successful proclamation of His name to the Gentiles and the alienation of their own proselyte supporters, which inflamed “the Jews” to the pitch of anger described in Acts 17:5 : they “burst into jealousy, and, enlisting certain scoundrels amongst the loafers of the city, they gathered a mob and raised a riot.” The house of Jason (this name is probably equivalent to Jesus), where St Paul and his companions lodged, was attacked with a view to seizing the Apostles and “bringing them before a public meeting” (προαγαγεῖν εἰς τὸν δῆμον). Jason was, presumably, a Jew of property who had accepted the faith of Christ. Failing to find the leaders, the mob “dragged Jason,” and certain other Christians who came in their way, “before the politarchs” (ἐπὶ τοὺς πολιτάρχας).

The accusation brought against the Apostles was adapted to prejudice the magistrates of an imperial city like Thessalonica: they were charged [1] with being revolutionaries—“these that have turned the world upside down (οἱ τὴν οἰκουμένην ἀναστατώσαντες Acts 17:6)[7] have come hither also”; and [2] with rebellion against the Emperor—“the whole of them contravene the decrees of Cæsar, asserting that there is another king, namely Jesus” (Acts 17:7). On these outrageous charges legal conviction was of course impossible; but the mere bringing of them “alarmed the multitude and the politarchs” (Acts 17:8), knowing as they did with what undiscriminating severity the Romans were accustomed to suppress even the appearance of rebellion. The Politarchs were, however, content with “taking security from Jason and the rest” for their good behaviour, and so dismissed the complaint (Acts 17:9). Paul and Silas were compelled by these proceedings to leave the city at once (Acts 17:10)—probably the security given by their friends included a promise to this effect; they had become marked men, in the eyes both of the Government and of the populace, in such a way that their return was barred for many months afterwards (1 Thessalonians 2:18). “The brethren immediately, by night, sent away both Paul and Silas to Berœa” (1 Thessalonians 2:10).

The impeachment for treason against Rome reminds us of the charge brought against our Lord Himself by the Jews before Pilate: “If thou release Him, thou art not Cæsar’s friend. Every one who maketh himself a king, contradicteth Cæsar” (John 19:12). Cæsar was the master of the world, and could brook no rival kingship. To employ the terms “king” or “kingdom,” in any sense, within his empire was calculated to rouse fatal suspicion. The accusations were a distortion of what Paul and Silas had actually preached. They did publish a “kingdom of God” that claimed universal allegiance (1 Thessalonians 2:12, 2 Thessalonians 1:5; 2 Thessalonians 1:8), and “another king” than the world-ruler of Rome, “even Jesus,” whom God had set at His right hand and crowned with glory and honour, who should one day “judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:31). The language of 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12 (see Expository Notes) indicates certain aspects of St Paul’s eschatological teaching in Thessalonica out of which a skilful accuser would not find it difficult to make political capital against him. The prejudice excited against the Gospel at Thessalonica by the phrase “the kingdom of God” or “of Christ,” and by the forms of doctrine connected with it, suggests a practical reason for the comparative disuse of this terminology in St Paul’s Epistles, which is often thought surprising and is mistakenly alleged as a fundamental contrast between the doctrine of the Apostle and that of Jesus Himself.

The work accomplished by the missionaries in Thessalonica, and the nature and extent of the opposition they had aroused, imply a period of labour of greater duration than the three weeks referred to in Acts 17:2. St Luke surely intends that datum to apply only to the preaching of St Paul in the Synagogue, leaving undefined the much longer time over which his ministry outside the Synagogue was extended. The two Epistles indicate a degree of Christian knowledge and a settled fellowship and discipline among St Paul’s adherents, and moreover a close personal acquaintance and attachment between themselves and him, which presuppose months rather than weeks of intercourse[8]. The allusion of Philippians 4:16, already noticed, implies a continued sojourn. Paul and Silas left their infant flock prematurely, under circumstances causing them great concern as to its safety and an intense desire to return and complete its indoctrination (1 Thessalonians 2:17 to 1 Thessalonians 3:13). But the work, though wrought in a comparatively brief time and so hurriedly left, was well and truly done. The foundation laid was sure, and bore the shock of persecution. The visit of Timothy, sent from Athens soon after St Paul’s arrival from Berœa, found the Church unshaken in its faith and loyalty and abounding in works of love, while it was strengthened and tested through trial, so that it was able to send back to the Apostle on Timothy’s return, with expressions of regret for his continued absence, assurances which were to him as life from the dead (1 Thessalonians 3:8) amid his heavy trials and toils at Corinth.

Of St Paul’s later associations with Thessalonica the traces are slight. This city had, doubtless, a principal place in his thoughts when in 1 Corinthians 16:5 f. he speaks of “passing through Macedonia” on the way from Ephesus to Corinth toward the close of the third missionary tour, and when in 2 Corinthians 8, 9, written a few months later (56 A.D.), he commends to the Corinthians the signal liberality of “the churches of Macedonia” amongst whom he was travelling at that time. During this visit, as in his first residence at Thessalonica, the Apostle’s life was one of peril and agitation: he writes of this period in 2 Corinthians 7:5, ἐν παντὶ θλιβόμενοι· ἔξωθεν μάχαι, ἔσωθεν φόβοι; cf. the πολὺς ἀγών of 1 Thessalonians 2:2. On his return from Corinth eastwards, in the spring of 57, St Paul again traversed Macedonia (Acts 20:3-6) and associated with himself, in carrying the collection made by the Gentile Churches for the Christian poor in Jerusalem, two Thessalonians named “Aristarchus and Secundus.” The former of these remained with the Apostle for several years, sharing in his voyage to Rome (Acts 27:2) and in his imprisonment there. In Colossians 4:10 and Philemon 1:24 the Apostle sends greetings from Aristarchus, calling him ὁ συναιχμάλωτός μου. During his latest travels, in the interval between the first and second Roman imprisonment, St Paul describes himself as “on my journey (πορευόμενος) to Macedonia” (1 Timothy 1:3) on the occasion of his meeting Timothy shortly before writing the first extant Epistle to him, when the Apostle gave him orders “to stay on (προσμεῖναι) in Ephesus” as his commissioner. Thus a third time, as it appears, St Paul crossed from Asia Minor into Macedonia. Once we have clear evidence of his traversing the same route in the opposite direction (Acts 20); in all probability he did so a second time, on his release from the first Roman captivity, if he fulfilled the intention, implied in Philippians 2:24 and Philemon 1:22, of revisiting the Churches of Macedonia and Asia so soon as he should be set at liberty.

The last reference to this city in St Paul’s history is the sad note of 2 Timothy 4:10 : “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved the present world, and hath taken his journey to Thessalonica.” This deserter is referred to at an earlier time in Colossians 4:14, and therefore was with St Paul in his former imprisonment. Whether Demas was a Thessalonian or not we cannot tell. His name is probably short for Demetrius. A martyr of the latter name, suffering in the reign of Maximian, has become the patron saint of the city.



IT is now time to ask, What, precisely, was the Gospel brought by Paul and Silvanus and Timotheus to Thessalonica, which produced amongst its people so powerful and enduring an effect? Was there anything, we may further enquire, that was special to the place and the occasion in the form which their message assumed, anything that may explain the peculiar tone of Christian feeling, the mould of thought and of experience revealed by the two Letters and characterizing the faith of this great Macedonian Church in its beginning? The data of the Epistles, compared with the hints given us by the story of the Acts, enable us to furnish some answer to these questions.

[1] The starting-point of St Paul’s teaching, as it addressed itself in the first instance to orthodox Jews, must be found in the proof of the Messiahship of Jesus, which was derived from the prophecies of Scripture compared with the historical facts of the life, death and resurrection of the Saviour. The method of this proof, briefly but very significantly indicated in Acts 17:3 (see p. xviii. above), is largely set forth in St Luke’s report of the Apostle’s discourse at the Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13).

[2] But in turning to the Gentiles, and especially when their preaching caught the ear of Greeks hitherto uninfluenced by the teaching of the Synagogue—and this seems to have been the case to a remarkable degree at Thessalonica—the missionaries of Christ had much to say about the falsity and sin of idolatry. This fact is strongly reflected in the account given by the writers in 1 Thessalonians 1:9 f. of their readers’ conversion: ἐπεστρέψατε πρὸς τὸν θεὸν ἀπὸ τῶν εἰδώλων κ.τ.λ. Their faith was emphatically a “faith toward God” (ἡ πίστις ὑμῶν ἡ πρὸς τὸν θεόν, 1 Thessalonians 1:8): see Expository Notes. As “God’s Son, whom He raised from the dead,” they recognized Jesus; in this character they “await Him from the heavens” for their “deliverer.” The gods of their forefathers, whose images occupy the temples and public places of the city, and other minor deities adored in domestic or more private worship, they renounced as being “nothing in the world” (1 Corinthians 8:4), mere “shows” (εἴδωλα) of Godhead. Henceforth they acknowledge but “one God the Father, of whom are all things and we for Him” (1 Corinthians 8:6). That they “know not God” is the misery of the heathen; with this guilty ignorance their base moral condition, and the peril of eternal ruin in which they stand, are both connected (1 Thessalonians 4:5; 2 Thessalonians 1:8 f). This “living and true God,” the Father of the Lord Jesus, they had come to know and to approach as “our Father” (1 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 3:11; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 2 Thessalonians 2:16); He is to them “the God of peace” (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 1:2), who had “loved them and given them eternal comfort and good hope in grace” (2 Thessalonians 2:16), had “chosen” them and “called them to enter His own kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 2:12), who “would count them worthy of their calling and accomplish in them every desire of goodness and work of faith” (2 Thessalonians 1:11), whose “will” is their “sanctification” and who had “called them in sanctification” and “not for uncleanness” (1 Thessalonians 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:7), whose “word” is now “working” in them to these great ends (1 Thessalonians 2:13), who can and will “comfort and strengthen their hearts in every good work and word,” so that they may be found “unblamable in holiness” before Him at the Redeemer’s coming (1 Thessalonians 3:13; 2 Thessalonians 2:17), who “will bring” back “with Him” and restore to their communion those who have fallen asleep in death (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17), who will recompense those who have “suffered for His kingdom” with “rest” at the last while He sends “affliction on their afflicters” (2 Thessalonians 1:5-7). Such was the God and Father to the knowledge of whom the readers of these Epistles had been brought a few months ago out of the darkness and corruption of Paganism; it must be their one aim to serve and to please Him; the Apostle’s one desire for them is that they may “walk worthily” of Him who called them (1 Thessalonians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 2:13 f.). The good news brought to Thessalonica is spoken of repeatedly, and with peculiar emphasis, as “the gospel of God”; at the same time, it is “the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:8), since He is its great subject and centre: cf. Romans 1:3, “the gospel of God … concerning His Son.”

In this typical Græco-Roman city there were evidently in various ranks of society, both within and without the range of Jewish influence, a large number of minds prepared for “the good news of God.” While the ancestral cults long maintained their hold of the rural population, in the great towns of the Empire scepticism was generally prevalent. The critical influence of philosophy, the moral decay of Paganism and the disgust excited amongst thoughtful men by many of its rites, the mixture and competition of conflicting worships tending to discredit them all, the spread of a uniform civilization breaking the spell of the old local and native religions, had caused a decided trend in the direction of monotheism and laid the more receptive natures open to the access of a simpler and purer faith. It is interesting to observe the prominence of God in these Epistles, and the manifold ways in which the Divine character and the relations of God to Christian men had been set forth to the Thessalonian Church. Such teaching would be necessary and specially helpful to men emerging from heathen superstition or unbelief; these Letters afford the best example we have of St Paul’s earliest instructions to Gentile converts. The next report furnished to us in the Acts of his preaching to the heathen (Acts 17:22-31 : the discourse at Athens), represents the Apostle as dwelling mainly on two things—the nature of the true God, and the coming of Jesus Christ to judge the world.

[3] In proclaiming to the Jews a suffering and dying Messiah, the Apostle Paul must needs have shown how “it behoved the Christ to suffer” (Acts 17:3). The purpose of the Redeemer’s death, its bearing upon human salvation, was explained by him “to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” This we infer from the central position of this topic in other Epistles, and from the prominence given to it in the Address of Acts 13:38 f., where the announcement of the forgiveness of sins and of justification by faith forms the climax of the sermon, belonging to St Paul’s earlier ministry, and where these great gifts of salvation are referred to the dying and rising from the grave of the rejected “Saviour, Jesus.” The language of 1 Thessalonians 5:8-10 leaves us in no doubt that the same “word of the cross” was proclaimed at Thessalonica as everywhere else. Here “salvation” comes “through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us,”—a salvation in part received already, in part matter of “hope,” and which belongs to those who “have put on the breastplate of faith and love.” This salvation is the crying need of the Gentile world, which in its ignorance of God is enslaved to idolatry and shameful lusts, and is exposed to the “anger of God” that is “coming” and will break suddenly upon the “sons of night and of darkness,” who are “perishing” in their refusal to “receive the love of the truth” (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:9 f., 1 Thessalonians 4:5, 1 Thessalonians 5:2-9; 2 Thessalonians 1:8 f., 1 Thessalonians 2:8-12).

We can understand all this in the light of the evangelical teaching of the Epistle to the Romans (see Romans 1:16-25, Romans 3:23-26, Romans 5:1-11, &c.: cf. the kindred passages in Galatians and 2 Corinthians); but without such knowledge the Apostle’s allusions in these Letters would have been unintelligible to ourselves; and without oral instruction to the same effect, they would have been meaningless to Thessalonian readers. It must be admitted—and the fact is remarkable—that very little is said here upon the subject of the Atonement and Salvation by Faith. To suppose, however, that the Apostle Paul avoided such themes in his first ministry in Macedonia, or that, before the outbreak of the Legalist controversy, he had not yet arrived at his distinctive doctrine of Justification by Faith, is the least likely explanation of the facts. It stands in contradiction with the testimony given by 1 Corinthians 2:1 f., 1 Corinthians 1:17-24, where, referring to his work at Corinth going on at the very time when the Thessalonian Epistles were written, the Apostle tells us that “Jesus Christ crucified” formed the one thing he “had judged it fit to know,” finding in this “the testimony of God” charged with “God’s power and God’s wisdom” for men; and where he identifies “the gospel Christ had sent” him “to preach” with “the cross of Christ,” for which he is supremely jealous “lest it should be made void.” As in Corinth later, so amongst the Galatians earlier in the same missionary tour[9], “Jesus Christ had been placarded (or painted up), crucified” (Galatians 3:1). That in the interval the Apostle should have lapsed at Thessalonica into another gospel—that of the Second Coming substituted for the gospel of the Cross (Jowett)—is historically and psychologically most improbable.

In justice to the writer we must bear in mind the limited scope of these seemingly unevangelical Letters, and their strictly “occasional” nature. From the absence of argument and direct inculcation on the theme of the Atonement and the Forgiveness of Sins we should infer, not that St Paul was indifferent to these matters when he thus wrote, nor that these were points of minor importance in his preaching at Thessalonica, but that they were here received without demur or controversy and that the ὑστερήματα τῆς πίστεως (1 Thessalonians 3:10) which he desired to make good in this community lay in other directions—that in fact the Thessalonian Church was not less but more loyal to the cross of Christ than some others. This conclusion is in harmony with the general tone of commendation characterizing both Epistles.

[4] The most conspicuous and impressive theme of the Apostolic preaching in Thessalonica, so far as it is echoed by the Letters, was undoubtedly the coming of the Lord Jesus in His heavenly kingdom. These writings are enough to show that the second advent of Christ was an important element in the original Gospel, the good news which God has sent to mankind concerning His Son. “One is apt to forget that the oldest Christianity was everywhere dominated by eschatological considerations” (Bornemann). The religion of the Thessalonian Christians is summed up in two things, viz. their “serving a living and true God” and “awaiting His Son from the heavens” (1 Thessalonians 1:9 f.). In the light of Christ’s parousia they had learned to look for that “kingdom and glory of God” to which He had called them, for the sake of which they are so severely suffering (1 Thessalonians 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 1:5; 2 Thessalonians 1:10-12; 2 Thessalonians 2:13 f.). “The coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints” was an object of intense desire and fervent anticipation to the Apostle himself; he had impressed these feelings on his disciples at Thessalonica to an uncommon degree. His appeals and warnings throughout rest on this “hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” as upon their firmest support. “Each section (of the First Epistle) in turn runs out into the eschatological prospect” (Bornemann). It was, moreover, upon this subject that the misunderstandings arose which the Apostle is at so much pains to correct—the first (in 1 Thessalonians 4:13) touching the share of departed Christians in the return of the Lord; the second (in 2 Thessalonians 2:2) concerning the imminence of the event itself.

What may have been the train of thought in St Paul’s mind which led him to dwell on the parousia with such emphasis at this particular time, we cannot tell. There were however two conditions belonging to his early ministry in Europe that might naturally suggest this line of preaching.

For one thing, the Christian doctrine of final judgement was calculated to rouse the Greek people from its levity and moral indifference and to awaken in sleeping consciences the sense of sin; moreover, it had impressive analogies in their own primitive religion. Hence the Apostle, with a practical aim, advanced this truth at Athens, declaring that “God, having overlooked the times of ignorance, now commands men that all everywhere should repent; because He has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness, by the man whom He ordained.” From such passages as 1 Corinthians 1:7 f., 1 Corinthians 3:12-13, 1 Corinthians 4:3-5, 1 Corinthians 9:27, 1 Corinthians 15:23-28; 1Co_15:51-57, 2 Corinthians 5:10, it appears that the thought of the Second Coming and the Last Judgement had been impressed with similar force on St Paul’s Corinthian converts; this expectation was a fundamental axiom of the earliest Christianity. To the busy traders of Corinth and Thessalonica, or to the philosophers and dilettanti of Athens, he made the same severe and alarming proclamation. Indeed, St Paul regarded the message of judgement as an essential part of his good tidings: “God will judge the secrets of men,” he wrote, “according to my gospel, through Jesus Christ” (Romans 2:16). But the announcement of Christ’s coming in judgement involves the whole doctrine of the Second Advent. In what they said on this solemn subject, the writers tell us, they had been both exact and full (1 Thessalonians 5:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:5 f.). Yet its bearings are so mysterious and its effect on the mind, when fully entertained, is so exciting, that one is not surprised at the agitations resulting from this teaching in the young Christian community of Thessalonica.

But further, it should be observed that the Apostle Paul, as he entered Macedonia and set foot on the Via Egnatia, was brought more directly under the shadow of the Roman Empire than at any time before. Philippi, a Roman colony and a memorial of the victory by which the Empire was established; Thessalonica, a great provincial capital of Western aspect and character; the splendid military road by which the missionaries travelled and along which troops of soldiers, officers of state with their retinues, foreign envoys and tributaries were going and coming—all this gave a powerful impression of the “kingdom and glory” of the great world-ruling city, to which a mind like St Paul’s was peculiarly sensitive. He was himself a citizen of Rome, and by no means indifferent to his rights in this capacity; he held a high estimate of the prerogatives and functions of the civil power (Romans 13:1-7). As the Apostle’s travels extended and his work advanced, he became increasingly sensible of the critical relations that were coming into existence between Christianity and the Roman dominion and state-fabric; he recognized the powerful elements both of correspondence and of antagonism by which the two systems were associated.

What the Apostle now saw of the great kingdom of this world, prompted new and larger thoughts of that spiritual kingdom of which he was the herald and ambassador (cf. 1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 4:17; Acts 9:15; Acts 23:11; Acts 27:23). He could not fail to discern under the majestic sway of Rome signs of moral degeneracy and prognostics of ruin. He remembered well that by the sentence of Pontius Pilate his Master had been crucified (1 Timothy 6:13); in his own outrageous treatment by the Roman officials of Philippi, as in the sufferings that the Christian flock of Thessalonica endured from their συμφυλέται (1 Thessalonians 2:14), there were omens of the conflict that was inevitable between secular tyranny and the authority of Christ. The charge made against himself and his fellow-believers, like that framed against our Lord before Pilate, put Cœsar and Jesus in formal antithesis (see p. xix., above; and notes on 2 Thessalonians 2:3-9, bearing upon the Cæsar-worship of the Provinces). At the bottom, and in the ultimate verdict of history, the accusation was true; the struggle between Christianity and Cæsarism was to prove internecine. If the Apostles preached, as they could do without any denunciation of the powers that be, a universal, righteous and equal judgement of mankind approaching, in which Jesus, crucified by the Roman State, would be God’s elected Judge; if they taught that “the fashion of this world passeth away” (1 Corinthians 7:31), and that the world’s enmity to God would culminate one day in the rule of a universal despot aping Divinity, the master of Satanic imposture, whom the Lord will swiftly “consume by the breath of His mouth and the manifestation of His coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-11), there were grounds plausible enough for accusing the preachers of treasonable doctrine, even though no overt political offence had been committed. The prophetic portrait too closely approached historic actuality. That such a judgement was reserved, in the near or farther future, for “the man of lawlessness” and his like, was “good news” for all good and honest men; but it was of fatal import to the imperialism of the Caligulas and Neros, and to much that was flourishing in the social and political order of which the deified Cæsars were the grand impersonation. In this far-reaching consequence lies the most significant and distinctive, though not the most obvious, feature of the Gospel of St Paul at Thessalonica.

In its more immediate bearing, it is manifest that the hope of Christ’s return in glory was the consolation best suited to sustain the Church, as it sustained the Apostle himself, under the “great conflict of sufferings” through which both are passing.

[5] The moral issues of the Gospel inculcated by St Paul and his companions at Thessalonica, the new duties and affections belonging to the life of believers in Christ, are touched upon at many different points and brought out incidentally in a very natural and instructive way; but they are not developed with the fulness and systematic method of subsequent Epistles. Most prominent here are the obligation to chastity, as belonging to the sanctity of the body and dictated by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8); and the claims of brotherly love, with the good order, the peace, and mutual helpfulness that flow from it (1 Thessalonians 4:9 f., 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15; 2 Thessalonians 3:14 f.). What is singular in these Epistles is the repeated and strong injunctions they contain on the subject of diligence in secular labour and in the common duties of life (1 Thessalonians 4:10-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15).

A striking moral feature of the Gospel taught in Thessalonica is manifest in the conduct of the missionaries of Christ themselves,—their incessant toil, their unbounded self-denial, the purity and devoutness of their spirit, and their fearless courage (1 Thessalonians 1:6 f., 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:7 f.). Chiefly in order to spare expense to the Christian society, but partly also by way of example, they maintained themselves during this mission by manual labour (1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:9).



I. WHEN St Paul and his companions left Thessalonica, they counted upon it that the separation would last only “for the season of an hour,” ἀπορφανισθέντες ἀφʼ ὑμῶν πρὸς καιρὸν ὥρας (1 Thessalonians 2:17 f.). The Apostle had laid his plans for a prolonged sojourn in this important centre, and greatly wished to have given his converts a more complete course of instruction (1 Thessalonians 3:10). He had removed to Berœa, which lay 50 miles to the south-west, with the full intention of returning so soon as the storm blew over. But the Thessalonian Jews, instead of being appeased by his removal, pursued him, and he was compelled to quit the Province altogether (Acts 17:13 f.). Silas and Timothy were however able to remain in Berœa, while the Apostle sailed from the Macedonian coast to Athens. On landing at Athens, he appears to have sent enquiries again to Thessalonica to see if the way was open for his return, which received a discouraging reply; or Silas and Timothy, arriving from Beroea, brought unfavourable news from the other city; for he relates in 1 Thessalonians 2:18 that “we had resolved to come, both once and twice, but Satan hindered us”—a hindrance doubtless found in the malicious influence of the Jews, at whose instigation the Politarchs still kept “Jason and the rest” bound over to prevent Paul and Silas again disturbing the peace of the city. On the failure of this second attempt and now that the three missionaries are reunited at Athens (Acts 17:15), since their anxiety for the Thessalonians is so keen, the other two send Timothy thither (his presence had not been proscribed: see 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5), in order to comfort and strengthen the infant Church in its distress. Silas must afterwards have left St Paul’s side also while he was still in Athens, possibly revisiting Philippi or Berœa, for we find “Silas and Timothy” a little later “coming down” together “from Macedonia” to rejoin their leader at Corinth (Acts 18:5). It seems that some members of the Thessalonian Church, listening perhaps to malignant insinuations and not appreciating St Paul’s consideration for “Jason and the rest” who would have suffered if he and Silas returned to the forbidden city, had complained of the Apostle’s failure to keep his promise; he dwells on this failure at such length and so earnestly in 1 Thessalonians 2, 3, that one feels sure there was a very definite reason for the exculpation.

St Paul soon left Athens, which he found a sterile soil for his Gospel, and he had been but a short time in Corinth (for he was still preaching in the synagogue: Acts 18:4-6) when Timothy in company with Silvanus reached him. The report he brought was a veritable εὐαγγέλιον to the much-tried Apostle, who had entered on his mission at Corinth under an unusual dejection of mind (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:3). He was relieved and cheered; the encouragement gave new life to his present work (cf. Acts 18:5 and 1 Thessalonians 3:8). The Thessalonians are “standing fast in the Lord”; they “long to see” him as much as he does to see them (1 Thessalonians 3:6). They continue to be “imitators of the Lord” and of His Apostles, following steadily the path on which they had so worthily set out (1 Thessalonians 1:5 ff.). Their faith has stood without flinching the test of prolonged persecution. By their activity and courage, and their exemplary Christian love, they have commended the Gospel with telling effect throughout Macedonia and Achaia (1 Thessalonians 1:7 ff; 1 Thessalonians 4:10 f.). The expectations the Apostles had formed of them have been even surpassed; they know not how to thank God sufficiently “for all the joy wherewith” they “rejoice before Him” on this account (1 Thessalonians 3:9). The New Testament contains nowhere a more glowing or unqualified commendation than that bestowed on the character and behaviour of the Thessalonian Church at this time.

What Paul and Silas have heard from their assistant increases their longing to see the Thessalonians again; for if their anxiety is relieved, their love to this people is greatly quickened, and they “are praying night and day with intense desire” that the obstacle to their return may be removed (1 Thessalonians 3:10). Indeed St Paul’s primary object in writing the First Epistle is to express his eager wish to revisit Thessalonica. This purpose dominates the first half of the Letter (chh. 1–3). Associated with this desire, there are two aims that actuate him in writing. In the first place, the Apostle wishes to explain his continued absence as being involuntary and enforced, and in doing so to justify himself from aspersions which had reached his readers’ ears. Ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 is a brief apologia. We gather from it that the enemies of Christianity in Thessalonica (Jewish enemies[10], as the denunciation of 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, together with the probabilities of the situation, strongly suggests) had made use of the absence of the missionaries to slander them, insinuating doubts of their courage (1 Thessalonians 2:2), of their disinterestedness and honesty (1 Thessalonians 2:3; 1 Thessalonians 2:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:9), and of their real affection for their Thessalonian converts (1 Thessalonians 2:7 f., 11 f.). The slanderers said, “These so-called apostles of Christ are self-seeking adventurers. Their real object is to make themselves a reputation and to fill their purse at your expense[11]. They have beguiled you by their flatteries and pretence of sanctity (1 Thessalonians 2:4 f., 10) into accepting their new-fangled faith; and now that trouble has arisen and their mischievous doctrines bring them into danger, they creep away like cowards, leaving you to bear the brunt of persecution alone. And, likely enough, you will never see them again!” Chapter 2 is a reply to innuendoes of this kind, which are such as unscrupulous Jewish opponents were sure to make. Timothy reported these charges floating about in Thessalonian society; perhaps the Church, while earnestly disowning them, had made in writing some allusion to the taunts levelled at its Apostles, which rendered it still more necessary that they should be confronted[12]. Considering the short time that Paul and Silas had been in this city, and the influence which the synagogue-leaders had formerly possessed over many members of their flock, considering also the disheartening effect of continued persecution upon a young and unseasoned Church, one cannot wonder at the danger felt lest its confidence in the absent missionaries should be undermined. Happily that confidence had not been shaken,—“You have good remembrance of us at all times” (1 Thessalonians 3:6): so Timothy had assured the Apostle; so, it may be, their own letter now testifies for the Thessalonians. Yet it is well that everything should be said that may be to repel these poisonous suspicions.

In the second place, and looking onward to the future, the Apostles write in order to carry forward the instruction of their converts in Christian doctrine and lifeκαταρτίσαι τὰ ὑστερήματα τῆς πίστεως ὑμῶν (1 Thessalonians 3:10). With this further aim the First Epistle is extended to chh. 4 and 5 (Λοιπὸν οὖν, ἀδελφοί, 1 Thessalonians 4:1), when in its first intention it had been already rounded off by the concluding prayer of 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13. In passing westward from Asia Minor into Europe, St Paul’s mission has entered upon a new stage. He is no longer able quickly to visit his Churches, now numerous and widely separated, and to exercise amongst them a direct oversight. The defect of his presence he must supply by messenger and letter. Moreover, he may have found in the case of the Macedonian, as afterwards in that of the Corinthian Church (see 1 Corinthians 7:1, &c.; cf. Philippians 4:15; also 1 Thessalonians 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:1—passages which almost suggest that the Thessalonians had asked the Apostles to write to them if they could not come), that the Greek Christian communities were apt for intercourse of this sort and took pleasure in writing and being written to. Anyhow, these (with the possible exception of the Epistle of James) are the earliest extant N.T. Letters; and when the writers describe themselves as “longing to see you and to complete the deficiencies of your faith,” we perceive how such Epistles became necessary and to what conditions we owe their existence. The Apostle Paul found in epistolary communication a form of expression suited to his genius and an instrument that added to his power (see 2 Corinthians 10:9 ff.), while it extended the range and sustained the efficacy of his pastoral ministry.

The ὑστερήματα which had to be supplemented in the faith of this Church, were chiefly of a practical nature. [1] On the moral side, St Paul emphasizes the virtue of chastity, notoriously lacking in Greek city-life, in respect of which the former notions of Gentile converts had commonly been very lax; and brotherly love, with which, in the case of this Church, the duty of quiet and diligent labour was closely associated (1 Thessalonians 4:1-12). [2] On the doctrinal side, a painful misunderstanding had arisen, which Timothy had not been able to remove, touching the relation of departed Christians to Christ on His return; and there was in regard to the Last Things a restlessness of mind and an over-curiosity unfavourable to a sober and steadfast Christian life (1 Thessalonians 4:13 to 1 Thessalonians 5:11). [3] With this we may connect symptoms of indiscipline in one party, and of contempt for extraordinary and emotional spiritual manifestations in another, which the closing verses of the Epistle indicate (1 Thessalonians 5:12-22). These latter contrasted indications resemble the antagonisms which took a more pronounced and reprehensible form in the Corinthian Church some six years later.

II. After writing their First Epistle, “Paul and Silvanus and Timotheus” received further tidings from Thessalonica (by what channel we know not) which moved them to write a Second. The Second is a supplement or continuation, and in many of its phrases almost an echo, of the First. (The relations of the two will be discussed more narrowly in the next chapter.) The freshness of colouring and liveliness of personal feeling which characterize the former Epistle are comparatively wanting in this. We gather from the opening Act of Thanksgiving that the storm of persecution is still more violent and the fidelity of the Church even more conspicuous than when the Apostles wrote some months before: “Your faith grows exceedingly, and your love multiplies. We make our boast in you among the churches of God, because of your faith and endurance in persecution” (1 Thessalonians 1:3 f.). St Paul says nothing further, however, of his intention to return; his hands are by this time tied fast at Corinth (Acts 18:5-18), and his thoughts preoccupied by the exacting demands of his work in this new sphere: he commends them to “the Lord, who will stablish them and keep them from the Evil One” (1 Thessalonians 3:3-5) Nor does he enter on any further defence, nor indulge in renewed reminiscences, of his conduct toward the Thessalonians and his experiences amongst them. It is almost entirely the latter (chh. 4, 5) and not the earlier part (chh. 1–3) of 1 Thessalonians that is reflected in 2 Thessalonians.

There are two topics of the former Epistle to which it is necessary to advert again; on these the writers find that they must be more explicit and more urgent than before. First and chiefly, about the Second Adventὑπὲρ τῆς παρουσίας τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ ἡμῶν ἐπισυναγωγῆς ἐπʼ αὐτόν (1 Thessalonians 2:1). A rumour is abroad, claiming prophetic origin and alleged to be authenticated by the founders of the Church, to the effect that “the day of the Lord has arrived” and He must be looked for immediately (1 Thessalonians 2:2). The report is pronounced a deception (1 Thessalonians 2:3). St Paul states reasons, partly recalled from his oral teaching, why so speedy a consummation is impossible. This gives occasion to his memorable prediction of the advent of ὁ ἄνθρωπος τῆς ἀνομίας, whose appearance and rise to supreme power will give, he predicts, the signal for Christ’s return in glory (1 Thessalonians 2:3-12). This prophecy is the one great difficulty which meets the student of these Epistles, and is amongst the most mysterious passages in the Bible. It will be dealt with at length in the Notes, and further in the Appendix to this volume.

The other object the Apostles have in writing this Letter is to reprove the disorderly fraction of the Church (ch. 1 Thessalonians 3:6-13). The First Epistle intimated the existence of a tendency to idleness and consequent insubordination (1 Thessalonians 4:11 f., 1 Thessalonians 5:12-14), to which reference was there made in a few words of kindly and guarded censure. This gentle reproof failed to check the evil, which had become aggravated and persistent, endangering the peace of the whole Church. It was connected, presumably, with the excitement on the subject of Christ’s advent. This expectation furnished an excuse for neglecting ordinary labour, or even an incentive to such neglect. The Apostles take the offenders severely to task, and direct the brethren to refuse support to such as persist in idleness and to avoid their company. This discipline, it is hoped, will bring about their amendment.

That this Letter is the second of the two, and not the first (as Grotius, Ewald, F. C. Baur, and some others, have contended), is apparent from the course of affairs and the internal relationship of the two documents, as we have just examined them. 2 Thessalonians, whoever wrote it, presupposes and builds upon 1 Thessalonians. It deals more fully and explicitly with two principal points raised in the former Letter, as they present themselves in their further development. Certain disturbing influences, which had begun to make themselves felt when Timothy left Thessalonica bringing the news that elicited the former Epistle, have by this time reached their crisis. The thanksgiving of 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12 implies an advance both in the severity of persecution, and in the growth and testing of Thessalonian faith; for which faith acknowledgement is made to God in terms even stronger than before. The personal recollections and explanations, which form so interesting a feature of the other Epistle, are suited to St Paul’s first communication of the kind with this beloved Church. The absence of such references in the shorter Epistle marks it as a supplement to the other, following this after a brief interval. The expression of ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:2, “neither through word nor through letter, as on our authority” (ὡς διʼ ἡμῶν), is most naturally explained as alluding to some misunderstanding or misquotation (see Expository Note) of the language of 1 Thessalonians on the subject of the Parousia.

The two Epistles were written, as we have seen, from Corinth; not “from Athens,” as it is stated in the “subscription” attached to each of them in the MSS. followed by the Authorized English Version: Πρὸς Θεσσαλονικεῖςἐγράφη ἀπὸ Ἀθηνῶν. They were both composed during St Paul’s residence of eighteen months in Corinth (Acts 18:11), extending perhaps from Autumn 51 to Spring 53, A.D. They belong, therefore, as nearly as we can judge, to the winter of 51–52, A.D., in the eleventh or twelfth year of the Emperor Claudius; being twenty-one years after our Lord’s Ascension, two years after the Council at Jerusalem, five years before the Epistle to the Romans, fifteen years, probably, before the death of St Paul, and nineteen years before the Fall of Jerusalem.


The question of the use of the pluralis auctoris in St Paul’s Letters is one of considerable difficulty; no summary answer can be given to it. It is exhaustively discussed in the Essay of Karl Dick (Halle, 1890), entitled Der schriftstellerische Plural bei Paulus, who comes to the conclusion that the authorial “we” (for a singular ego) was a recognized usage of later Greek, and may therefore be looked for in St Paul; that one cannot without violence or over-subtlety force upon the we a uniformly multiple significance; that St Paul’s use of the first person plural is not stereotyped and conventional, and must be interpreted according to circumstances in each case; that the context frequently indicates a real plurality in his mind—and this with various nuances of reference and kinds of inclusion; and that the inclusive (or collective) and the courteous “we” shade off into each other, making it impossible to draw a hard and fast line between them.

In the Thessalonian Epistles one would suppose the plural of the first person to have its maximum force. Three writers present themselves in the Address, who had been companions in their intercourse with the readers; and while the third of the trio was a junior, the second had an authority and importance approximating to that of the first. Παῦλος καὶ Σιλουανός stood side by side in the eyes of the Thessalonian Church (cf. Acts 16, 17); and nothing occurs in the course of either Epistle to suggest that one of the two alone is really responsible for what is written. In other instances of a prima facie joint authorship (viz. 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Colossians, Philippians), there existed no such close associations of the persons appearing in the Address, and no such continuous use of the plural is found, as we recognize here. The two Letters give utterance, for the most part, to the recollections, explanations, and wishes of the missionaries and pastors of the Thessalonian Church as such; and their matter was therefore equally appropriate to Paul and Silas, if not to their attendant Timothy in the same degree. The distinction between μηκέτι στέγοντες κ.τ.λ. and ἐγὼ μηκέτι στέγων κ.τ.λ., in 1 Thessalonians 3:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:5 (see Expository Notes), can hardly be explained without assuming Paul and Silas to be intended in the former instance; and if so, then in the general tenor of the Epistle. Against the prevailing ἡμεῖς, the ἐγὼ μὲν Παῦλος of 1 Thessalonians 2:18, and the τῇ ἐμῇ χειρί Παύλου of 2 Thessalonians 3:17, stand out in relief; with less emphasis, the first singular of 2 Thessalonians 2:5 betrays the individuality of the leading author, as it recalls doctrine of a pronounced individual stamp; and the ἐνορκίζω ὑμᾶς τὸν κύριον κ.τ.λ. of 1 Thessalonians 5:27 is the outburst of strong personal feeling.

The master spirit of St Paul and his emotional idiosyncrasy have impressed themselves on the First Epistle, of which we cannot doubt that he was, in point of composition, the single author, though conscious of expressing and seeking to express the mind of his companions, and more particularly of Silas, throughout. In the less original paragraphs of the Second Epistle, there may be some reason for conjecturing (see the next chapter) that one of the other two—Silas more probably than Timothy—indited the actual words, while St Paul supervised, and endorsed the whole with his signature.

In the exposition the plural authorship will be assumed, for the most part, to embrace St Paul’s companions.



THAT these Letters were written by the author whose name heads the Address of each, was doubted by no one until the beginning of the last century. The testimony of the Early Church to their antiquity, and to the tradition of Pauline authorship, is full and unbroken; it is even more precise and emphatic in the case of the Second Epistle than in that of the First. See the catena of references given by Bornemann in the Kritisch-exegetischer Kommentar, pp. 319 f. 2 Thessalonians was used by Polycarp (ad Philipp. xi.4) and by Justin Martyr (Dial. xxxii., cx.),—in 2 Thessalonians 3:15 and 2 Thessalonians 2:3 ff. respectively; Justin’s references touch its most peculiar and disputed paragraph. There are passages moreover in the Epistle of Barnabas (iv.9, xviii.2), and in the Didaché XII. Apostolorum (v.2, xii.3, xvi.3–7), in which the ideas and imagery of this Epistle seem to be echoed.

The German writer Christian Schmidt first raised doubts respecting 2 Thessalonians in the year 1801, and Schrader respecting 1 Thessalonians in 1836. Kern, in the Tübingen Zeitschrift für Theologie [1837], and de Wette in the earlier editions of his Exegetisches Handbuch des N. T. (retracting his adverse judgement in the later editions), developed the critical objections against the Second Epistle. F. C. Baur, the founder of the ‘Tendency’ School of N. T. Criticism, restated the case against the traditional authorship of both Epistles, giving to it extensive currency through his influential work on “Paul the Apostle of Jesus Christ” (1845: Eng. Trans., 1873). Baur supposed the two Letters to have been written about the year 70, the “Second”earlier than the “First,”—by some disciple of St Paul with the Apocalypse of St John in his hand, wishing to excite renewed interest in the Parousia amongst Pauline Christians, in whose minds the delay had by this time bred distrust.

In their rejection of 1 Thessalonians Schrader and Baur have remained almost alone; Holsten and Steck in Germany, van der Vies, Pierson-Naber, and van Manen[13] in Holland, are the only names of note amongst their supporters. Along with Philippians, 1 Thessalonians may be added to 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, and Galatians, as counting for all practical purposes amongst the undisputed Epistles of St Paul. Not only Lightfoot, Ramsay, Bornemann, Zahn, Moffatt, but critics who are most sceptical about other documents—such as Hilgenfeld, Weizsäcker, Holtzmann, Pfleiderer, Jülicher, Schmiedel—pronounce this Letter to be unmistakably St Paul’s.

I. The internal evidence for the authorship of 1 THESSALONIANS is such as to disarm suspicion.

[1] The picture the Apostle Paul gives of himself and of his relations to the Church in chh. 1–3 is a delicate piece of self-portraiture; it bears the marks of circumstantial truth and unaffected feeling; it harmonizes with what we learn of St Paul and his companions from other sources (see the Expository Notes for details); and it is free from anything that suggests imitation, or interpolation, by another hand. Nemo potest Paulinum pectus effingere (Erasmus).

[2] The same air of reality belongs to the aspect of the Thessalonian Church, as it here comes into view. It exhibits the freshness, the fervour and impulsive energy of a newborn faith, with much of the indiscipline and excitability that often attend the first steps of the Christian life, so full at once of joy and of peril. The Church of Thessalonica has a character distinctly its own. It resembles the Philippian Church in the frankness, the courage, and the personal devotion to the Apostle, which so greatly won his love; also in the simplicity and thoroughness of its faith, which was untroubled by the speculative questions and tendencies to intellectual error that beset the Corinthian and Asian Churches. These traits agree with what we know of the Macedonian temperament. At the same time there was at Thessalonica a disposition to run into morbid excitement, and an unpractical enthusiasm, that we do not find in any other of the communities addressed in the Pauline Epistles.

[3] The absence of any allusion to Church organization and to the existence of a specialized ministry, beyond the general category of the officers who are spoken of in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-14, points to a simple and elementary condition of Church-life. This remark applies to both documents; and the Thessalonian are parallel to the Corinthian Epistles in this respect. Both at Thessalonica and Corinth difficult points of discipline had arisen, which would surely have involved reference to the responsible officers of the community, had these possessed the established status and well-defined powers which accrued to them in early Post-apostolic times.

[4] The attitude of the writers toward the Parousia is such as no disciple or imitator, writing in St Paul’s name, could possibly have ascribed to him after his death. He is made to write as though Christ were expected to come within his own lifetime: “we the living, we who survive until the coming of the Lord,” 1 Thessalonians 4:15; 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Taken in their plain sense, these words at least leave it an open question whether the Lord would not return while the writers and their readers yet lived. That a later author, wishing to use the Apostle’s authority for his own purposes, should have ascribed such words to his master is hardly conceivable. In doing this he would be discrediting the very authority on which he builds; for by this time St Paul had died, and Christ had not returned.

[5] Observe the manner in which the writer speaks in the passage just referred to of “those falling asleep” (οἱ κοιμώμενοι: see Expository Note upon the tense), in such a way as to show that the question concerning the fate of believers dying before the Lord’s return is a new one, that has arisen in the Thessalonian Church for the first time. This being the case, the Letter can only have been written within a few months of this Church’s birth. For it is never long in any community, of size beyond the smallest, before death has made its mark.

II. The suspicions against the authenticity of 2 THESSALONIANS are more persistent; they are not so ill-founded as in the case of the First Epistle. Baur maintained that the two Letters are of the same mint, and that both must be regarded as spurious or both authentic; his followers have generally separated them, regarding the Second as a reproduction of the First, dating about twenty years later and addressed to an altered situation, composed by way partly of imitation and partly of qualification and correction of 1 Thessalonians (see pp. xxxvii. ff.). H. J. Holtzmann, however, the most eminent of Baur’s successors, admits in the last edition of his Einleitung3 (p. 216) that “the question is no longer as to whether the Epistle should be pushed down into the Post-apostolic age, but whether, on the other hand, it does not actually reach back to the lifetime of the Apostle, in which case it is consequently genuine and must have been written soon after 1 Thessalonians, about the year 54.”

Jülicher, a pupil of the same school, concludes his examination by saying (Einleitung1, p. 44), “If one is content to make fair and reasonable claims on a Pauline Epistle, no occasion will be found to ascribe 2 Thessalonians to an author less original or of less powerful mind than Paul himself.” Harnack and Moffatt (The Hist. New Testament) decide for authenticity. Bahnsen (in the Jahrbuch für prot. Theologie, 1880, pp. 696 ff.) advanced a theory which identified ὁ ἀντικείμενος and ὁ ἄνθρωπος τῆς ἀνομίας with the antinomian and libertine Gnosticism of the period of Trajan (about 110 A.D.); he saw τὸ κατέχον in the rising Episcopate of that epoch. Bahnsen had been anticipated by Hilgenfeld, in his Einleitung, pp. 642 ff. [1875], and was followed by Hase (Lehrbuch d. Kirchengeschichte, I. p. 69), and Pfleiderer (Urchristenthum, pp. 78, 356 ff.); but this far-fetched and artificial construction has found few other adherents. The opinion prevalent amongst those who contest the Pauline authorship (so Kern, in the work above specified; Schmiedel, in the Handcommentar; Holtzmann’s Einleitung, and article in the Zeitschrift für N. T. Wissenschaft, 1901, pp. 97–108) is that 2 Thessalonians dates from the juncture between the assassination of the emperor Nero in June 68 A.D. and the fall of Jerusalem in August 70 (cf. Expository Note on 2 Thessalonians 2:4), and is contemporary with and closely parallel to Revelation 13, 17, and that by ὁ ἀντικείμενος and ὁ ἄνθρωπος τῆς ἀνομίας is meant the dead Nero, who was then and for long afterwards supposed by many to be living concealed in the East, the fear of his return to power adding a further element of horror to the confusion of the time (cf. pp. 222 f. in the Appendix). The readers of the first century, had they suspected the Nero redivivus in the Antichrist of ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:3 f., would hardly have given unquestioning circulation to a prediction that had thus missed its mark, and whose supposititious character a little enquiry would have enabled them to detect.

The above theory brings the origin of the document to within a very few years (or even months) of the Apostle’s death. Now the Apostle Paul had not spent his days in some corner of the Church, amongst a narrow circle of disciples; no Christian leader was known so widely, none at that time had so many personal followers surviving, so many intimate and well-informed friends and acquaintances interested in his work and his utterances, as the martyr Apostle of the Gentiles. There is a strong antecedent presumption against the possibility of any writing otherwise than genuine finding currency under St Paul’s name at this early date, especially one containing a prediction that stands isolated in Pauline teaching, and that proved itself (ex hypothesi) completely mistaken. Were it conceivable that a composition of this nature, invented throughout or in its principal passages, could have been accepted in the second century, that it should have been palmed upon the Thessalonian Church within six years of St Paul’s death—for this is what we are asked to believe, on the assumption of non-authenticity—is a thing incredible in no ordinary degree. Wrede, the latest opponent of the traditional view, admits the fictitious authorship to be incompatible with the date 68–70 (see his pamphlet Die Echtheit des zweiten Thessalonicher-briefes, pp. 36–40).

The nearer this Epistle is brought to St Paul’s lifetime, the more improbable and gratuitous becomes the theory of spurious authorship. Moreover, the language of ch. 2 Thessalonians 2:2 and of 2 Thessalonians 3:17 makes an explicit protest against literary personation—a protest which at least implies some measure of conscience and of critical jealousy on such points in early Christian times. Professing in his first word to be “Paul” and identifying himself in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 with the author of the first Epistle, the writer warns his correspondents against this very danger; to impute the Letter to some well-meaning successor, writing as though he were Paul in the Apostle’s vein and by way of supplement to his teaching, is to charge the writer with the offence which he expressly condemns. The Epistle is no innocent pseudepigraph. It proceeds either from “Paul and Silvanus and Timotheus,” or from someone who wished to be taken for these authors, and who attempts to cover his deception by denouncing it! Schmiedel’s apology for this “abgefeimten Betrüger” (Handcommentar zum N. T., II. 1., p. 12) is more cynical than successful.

The fact is that no real trace of the Nero-legend is discoverable in 2 Thessalonians (see Weiss’ Apocalyptische Studien, 2, in Studien und Kritiken, 1869); this groundless speculation of Kern and Baur should be dismissed from criticism. As Klöpper says in his able defence of the authenticity (Essay on 2 Thessalonians in the Theolog. Studien aus Ostpreussen, 1889, Heft 8, p. 128): “Nothing has done more to confuse the situation than the idea that the author of our Epistle could not have conceived and propounded his prophecy, in the form which it assumes, without having before his eyes by way of historical presupposition the person of Nero, or (to speak more precisely) the figure of Nero redivivus as this is incorporated in the Johannine Apocalypse.” Granting that the traits of the personality of the emperor Nero have left their mark on the Apocalypse of St John, they are not to be found here. 2 Thessalonians belongs to pre-Neronian Apocalyptic, and falls therefore within the period of St Paul’s actual career. The true historical position is that of Spitta (Urchristenthum, I. p. 135 ff.; similarly von Hofmann in his Commentary, Klöpper in the Essay cited above, Th. Zahn in his Einleitung). viz. that in ὁ ἄνομος of ch. 2 the image of Antiochus Epiphanes idealized in the Book of Daniel, and of Gaius Caligula as known to St Paul, have been “smelted together” (see Appendix, pp. 217–222), and that the emperor Gaius represented to the writers the furthest development which “the mystery of lawlessness” in its continuous “working” had attained up to their time.

Spitta’s hypothesis, propounded in the first volume of his valuable Essays Zur Geschichte und Litteratur des Urchristenthums [1893], pp. 109–154, proceeds upon the datum just stated. He conceives the real author of 2 Thessalonians to have been Timothy, writing by St Paul’s side at Corinth under the Apostle’s suggestion and in his name, but writing out of his own mind and as the member of the missionary band who had been most recently present and teaching in Thessalonica. Spitta thus seeks to account both for the singular resemblance of the Second Epistle to the First, and for its singular difference therefrom. [1] Under the former head, it is observed that, outside of 2 Thessalonians 2:2-12, there are but nine verses in 2nd which do not reflect the language and ideas of 1 Thessalonians. In its whole conception as well as in vocabulary and phrasing, apart from the peculiar eschatological passages, the later Epistle is an echo of the earlier; the spontaneity and freshness that one expects to find in the Apostle’s work are wanting; indeed it is said that St Paul, had he wished to do so, could not have repeated himself thus closely without reading his former Letter for the purpose. Such imitation, it is argued, would be natural enough in Timothy with the First Epistle before him for a model, when writing to the same Church shortly afterwards on his master’s behalf and in their joint name. Amid this sameness of expression we miss the geniality and lively play of feeling, the Paulinum pectus, which glows in the First Epistle and which vindicates it so strongly for the Apostle. The tone is more cool and official throughout. There is a measured, almost laboured and halting turn of language, which (it is said) betrays the absence of the master mind and the larger part played by the secretary—presumably Timothy—in the composition of this Letter. In comparing 2 Thessalonians 1:3-7; 2 Thessalonians 2:13 f., with 1 Thessalonians 1:2-5; 1 Thessalonians 3:9 f.; 2 Thessalonians 1:10-12 with 1 Thessalonians 2:19 f., 1 Thessalonians 3:11 ff.; 2 Thessalonians 3:7 ff. with 1 Thessalonians 2:7 ff., one cannot escape the impression of a certain blunting of St Paul’s incisive touch and a weakening of his firm grasp in passing from one Letter to the other. Wrede (op. cit.) finds in this effacement of style the chief reason for denying the Pauline authorship; he regards the Second Epistle as a carefully adapted imitation of certain sections of the First.

Bornemann accounts for the contrast thus described by pointing out that by the date of the Second Epistle St Paul was immersed in Corinthian affairs, and that his heart was no longer away at Thessalonica as when he first wrote; moreover, the intense and critical experience out of which the First Epistle sprang had stamped itself deeply on the soul of the Apostle, so that in writing again, after a brief interval, to a Church whose condition gave no new turn to his reflexions, the former train of thought and expression recurred more or less unconsciously and the Second Letter became to a certain extent a rehearsal of the First. To this explanation may be added two considerations: [1] That the occasion of this supplement, viz. the continuance of the unwholesome excitement about the Parousia and of the disorder touched upon in 1 Thessalonians 4:10 ff; 1 Thessalonians 5:14, involved a measure of surprise and disappointment, which inevitably chilled the writer’s cordiality and made the emphasis of affection and the empressement of the First Epistle impossible in this. Galatians, with 1 or 2 Corinthians, exhibits fluctuations of feeling within the same Letter not unlike that which distinguishes the two Epistles to the Thessalonians. [2] The visions rising before the Apostle’s mind in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10; 2 Thessalonians 2:2-12, were of a nature to throw the writer into the mood of solemn contemplation rather than of familiar intercourse.

When all has been said, the suspicion remains, strengthened by renewed and closer comparison of the parallel verses of the two Epistles, that some other hand beside St Paul’s had to do with the penning of 2 Thessalonians. Since three writers address the Thessalonians in these Letters, and the matter-of-fact plurality of the prevailing “we” on their part is vouched for by the passages in which the chief author speaks for himself as “I” or “I, Paul” (1 Thessalonians 2:18; 1 Thessalonians 3:5, 2 Thessalonians 2:5; 2 Thessalonians 3:17), it is a possibility conceivable under the circumstances and consistent with the primary authorship on St Paul’s part, that one of his companions—preferably Silvanus, as the coadjutor of the Apostle—was the actual composer of the large portion of 2 Thessalonians which traverses the ground of 1 Thessalonians, and in which the language is moulded on that of the earlier Letter with added touches of a more prolix style. Silas was an inspired “prophet” (Acts 15:32; cf. 1 Peter 5:12).

When Spitta comes to the original part of 2 Thessalonians—ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 (the signs premonitory of the Day of the Lord) and 1 Thessalonians 3:6-13 (the excommunication of idlers)—his theory breaks down. He sees in 1 Thessalonians 2:5 a reminder of Timothy’s teaching at Thessalonica, supposing that St Paul’s young helper had views about the Last Things more definite in some respects, and more Jewish in their colouring, than those of his leader who had spoken of the coming of “the day” as altogether indeterminate in time (see 1 Thessalonians 5:1 f.). He suggests that Timothy had adopted some Jewish apocalypse of Caligula’s time (he was conversant with “sacred writings,” 2 Timothy 3:15,—an expression possibly including non-canonical books; and 2 Thessalonians, though quotations are wanting in it, is steeped in O. T. language beyond other Pauline Epistles); and that he gave to this a Christian turn, shaping it into his prophecy of “the mystery of iniquity,” which lies outside St Paul’s doctrine and is nowhere else hinted at in his Epistles. But considering the chasm separating the Pauline mission from Judaism, it is improbable that either Timothy should have borrowed, or St Paul endorsed, a non-Christian apocalypse; granted that the conception of 2 Timothy 3:3-5 goes back to the epoch of Caligula, there is no reason why it should not have originated either in St Paul’s mind, since by the year 40 he was already a Christian, or amongst the numerous “prophets and teachers” at Jerusalem and Antioch between 40 and 50 A.D. Caligula’s outrage on the Temple[14] was a sign of the times that could hardly fail to stir the prophetic spirit in the Church, while it roused the passionate anger of the Jewish people.

The expressions of 2 Thessalonians 2:5-7 suggest that ὁ ἄνθρωπος τῆς ἀνομίας was no new figure to Christian imagination; his image, based on the Antiochus-Caligula pattern, had become a familiar object in Christian circles before the Apostles preached in Thessalonica. Jewish Apocalyptic had produced from its own soil, it seems likely, representations parallel to that of ὁ ἀντικείμενος in the 2nd Thessalonian Epistle and of not dissimilar features: so much may be granted to Spitta’s theory. The fact that “Antichrist” does not appear in his subsequent Epistles, does not prove that St Paul at no time held the doctrine attaching thereto, nor even that he ceased to hold it at a later time. The circumstances calling for its inculcation at Thessalonica were peculiar to the place and occasion. In later Epistles, from 2 Corinthians 5 onwards, the Parousia recedes to a distant future, and a glorious intervening prospect opens out for humanity in Romans 11; but this enlargement of view in no way forbids the thought of such a finale to human history and such a consummate revelation of Satanic power preceding the coming of the Lord in judgement, as this Epistle predicts. Our Lord’s recorded prophecies of the end of the world cannot be understood without the anticipation of a last deadly struggle of this nature.

Chap. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 supplies the crucial test to every hypothesis of the origin of 2 Thessalonians. Timothy being the last of the trio whose names figure in the Address and quite the subordinate member of the party (see 1 Thessalonians 3:2; Acts 16:2 f.; 1 Timothy 1:2, &c.), had this young assistant written 2 Thessalonians 2:5 propria persona, he would have been bound to mark the distinction—by inserting ἐγὼ Τιμόθεος or the like (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:18)—the more so since this Letter expressly purports to come from the Apostle Paul himself (2 Thessalonians 3:17). The whole deliverance is marked by a loftiness of imagination, an assurance and dignity of manner, and a concise vigour of style, that one cannot well associate with the position and the known qualities of Timothy. Whatever may be said of other parts of the Letter, this its unique paragraph and veritable kernel comes from no second-hand or second-rate composer of the Pauline school, but from the fountain-head.

The other original section of the Epistle, ch. 1 Thessalonians 3:6-13 (where, however, echoes of Epistle I. are not wanting), speaks with the decision and tone of authority characteristic of St Paul in disciplinary matters. The readers could never have presumed that a charge so peremptory proceeded from the third and least important of the three missionaries ostensibly writing to them, that “we” throughout the passage meant in reality Timothy alone, and that St Paul, who immediately afterwards puts his signature to the document, had allowed his assistant to give orders—and to advance eschatological speculations—which did not in reality issue from himself.

The alleged discrepancies between the two Epistles present no very serious difficulty. It is true that 1 Thessalonians seems to represent the Parousia as near and sudden, 2 Thessalonians as more distant and known by premonitory signs. But the latter is written on purpose to qualify the former and to correct an erroneous inference that might be drawn from it (2 Thessalonians 2:2 : see Expository Note); this being the case, a prima facie disagreement on the point is only to be expected. The premonitory sign afforded by the coming of Antichrist shows that the end, though it may be near, is not immediate. On the other hand, no date is given for the appearing of Antichrist, so that “the times and seasons” remain uncertain after the 2nd Epistle as before it; it is still true that “the day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night,” though the first alarm of the thief’s coming has been particularly described. The like contrast, easily exaggerated into discrepancy, is found in our Lord’s predictions recorded in St Matthew: on the one hand, uncertainty of date (ch. Matthew 24:36); on the other, a premonitory sign for the faithful (Matthew 24:33).

There is not even the appearance of contradiction between the reason given in 2 Thessalonians 3:9 and that stated in 1 Thessalonians 2:9 (as elsewhere—Acts 20:34; 1 Corinthians 9:15-19; 2 Corinthians 11:7 ff.) for the practice of manual labour on the part of the missionaries. To save expense to his converts was always an object of importance with St Paul; at Thessalonica another necessary end was served by this policy, viz. to set an example of hard work and independence. In Acts 20:33-35 the second of these motives is again hinted at, though with a somewhat different application, along with the first; later, in 2 Corinthians 11:12, St Paul discloses a third motive for this self-denying rule. There are minor differences of expression distinguishing the two Letters—such as the reference to “the Lord” (Christ) in a series of expressions of the 2nd Epistle where “God” appears in the parallel sentences of the 1st Epistle; but each of St Paul’s Epistles has idiosyncrasies due to passing circumstances or moods of thought too fine for us to trace; the variations of this kind here occurring are, in consideration of the pervasive resemblance of the two documents, of a nature altogether too slight for one to build any distinction of authorship upon them.

Outside ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 there is nothing to lend colour to the notion of a post-Pauline origin for the Second Epistle; and there is nothing in that central passage that can with plausibility be set down as later than 70 A.D. The directions given for the treatment of the “brother walking disorderly” (1 Thessalonians 3:6-13) belong to the incipient stage of Church organization. To suppose this passage written in the second century, or even in the last quarter of the first, is to attribute to the author a peculiar power of ignoring the conditions of his own time. But these instructions harmonize well enough with those addressed to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 5) respecting the extreme case of disorder in that Church.

The theories of interpolation have found but little acceptance. They account for the striking difference between 2 Thessalonians 2:2-12 (to which 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10 might be added) and 1 Thessalonians, and the equally striking correspondence to the 1st which the 2nd Epistle in other parts presents, by attributing to the two sections an entirely different origin. Thus P. W. Schmidt (in his Der 1 Thess.-Brief neu erklärt, nebst Excurs über den 2ten gleichnamigen Brief; also in the Short Protest. Commentary, by Schmidt and others, translated) would distinguish a genuine Epistle of Paul consisting of 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4; 2 Thessalonians 2:12 a, 2 Thessalonians 2:13 to 2 Thessalonians 3:18, treating the rest as an interpolation made about the year 69 by some half-Judaistic Christian akin to the author of Revelation 13, who wished to allay the excitement prevailing in his circle respecting the Parousia, and who worked up the idea of the Nero redivivus into an apocalypse, employing an old and perhaps neglected letter of the Apostle as a vehicle for this prophecy of his own. S. Davidson, in his Introduction to the Study of the N.T.2, vol. I., pp. 336–348, elaborated a similar view. But this compromise, while open to most of the objections brought against the theory of personation, raises others peculiar to itself. It ascribes to St Paul a Letter from which the pith has been extracted—little more than a shell without the kernel—weak and disconnected in its earlier part, and a Second to the Thessalonians following hard upon the First yet wanting in reference to the Parousia which fills the horizon of the previous Letter. If a partition must be made upon these lines, one would rather adopt Hausrath’s notion (in his Die Zeit der Apostel2, II., p. 198; translated under the title History of the Times of the Apostles), that 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 is a genuine Pauline fragement, which some later Paulinist has furnished with an epistolary framework in order to give it circulation amongst his master’s writings.

The text and tradition of the Second Epistle afford no ground for conjecture that it ever existed in any other form than that which we know. Where the Apostle has the same things to say and the same feelings to express which found utterance in the First Epistle, he writes (or one of his companions for him) in the same strain, but in a manner more ordinary and subdued as the glow of emotion which dictated the first Letter has cooled, and his mind has become engrossed with other interests. Where new ideas and altered needs on the part of his readers require it, as in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12; 2 Thessalonians 2:2-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, he strikes out in new directions with characteristic force and originality.

On the whole subject, comp. the articles on Thessalonians I. and II. in Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible, vol. iv. The article in Smith’s Dict. of the Bible, ad rem, by J. B. Lightfoot, is still valuable. Bornemann, in Meyer’s Kritisch-exegetischer Kommentar6, gives a complete and masterly discussion of the above questions, summing up decisively in favour of the authenticity of both Epistles. See also Askwith’s vindication of the genuineness of the 2nd Epistle: Introduction to the Thess. Epistles, ch. v.

As to the relations of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 to the Apocalypse, there will be something to say in the Appendix.



VOCABULARY. There are, as nearly as possible, 5,600 Greek words used in the New Testament. Out of these, 465 are in requisition for the Epistles to the Thessalonians,—a fairly extensive vocabulary, considering their limited scope and the amount of repetition in them. To this total of 465, the 2nd Epistle contributes 105 words, out of its 250, wanting in the 1st; half of these appearing in the two peculiar eschatological sections (in chh. 1 and 2); not a few of the remainder—such as αἱρέομαι, ἀτακτέω, διωγμός, ἐκδίκησις, ἐνκαυχάομαι, εὐδοκία, κλῆσις, κρατέω, περιεργάζομαι, ὑπεραυξάνω—are variants or synonyms of expressions employed in Epistle I. That, notwithstanding, 2 Thessalonians should be distinguished from 1 Thessalonians in two-fifths of its vocabulary, is a fact somewhat singular in view of the large measure of dependence it exhibits (see pp. xlviii. ff. above), while e.g. Galatians holds all but a third of its lexical content in common with Romans, and Colossians shares its words with Ephesians and Philippians jointly in almost the same proportion. 1 Corinthians with its 963, and 2 Corinthians with its 762 words, disclose however a greater verbal dissidence.

These Epistles contain but a small proportion of hapax-lego-mena—21 in the First and 9 in the Second, amounting to less than a fifteenth of their entire vocabulary and an average of rather more than four to the chapter. It is observable that the habit of using new and singular words grew upon St Paul; this tendency is most marked in his latest writings, the Epistles to Timothy and Titus, with a proportion of some thirteen hapaxlegomena to the chapter, constituting a fifth of their lexical contents; these ratios steadily increase as we proceed from the earlier to the later groups of Epistles. To the Thessalonian hapaxlegomena 24 words may be added which are peculiar in the N.T. to these with the other Pauline Epistles (including the Pastorals): 4 of these occur in both Letters, 14 in First, and 6 in Second Thessalonians. This raises the total number of Pauline hapax-legomena found in 1 and 2 Thessalonians to 54, out of the 848 words specific to St Paul amongst New Testament writers—a fraction not much smaller than the relative length of the two Epistles would lead us to expect. Of the above 54 locutions, it may be noted that 13 range no further than the second group of the Epistles (viz. 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Romans)—ἁγιωσύνη, ἀδιαλείπτως, ἔκδικος, ἐπιβαρέω, εὐσχημόνως, μόχθος, πλεονεκτέω, προλέγω, στέγω, στέλλομαι, συναναμίγνυσθαι, ὑπεραίρομαι, φιλοτιμέομαι; ἄρα οὖν, so characteristic of Romans, is only found once (in Ephesians) outside the first two groups; ἀγαθωσύνη and πάθος each occur in the first, second, and third groups; ἐνέργεια is the one prominent word peculiar to the first with the third (Eph., Col., Phil., Phm.) groups; ὑπερεκπερισσοῦ recurs only in Ephesians 3:20; ἐξαπατάω, ὄλεθρος, προΐστημι are found, outside of 1 and 2 Thess., in the second and fourth (1 and 2 Tim., Titus) groups; μνεία in the third and fourth; ἐπιφάνεια and ἤπιος (1 1 Thessalonians 2:7) reappear only in the fourth, and form a significant link between the first and last of Paul’s extant Letters.

The hapax-legomena proper to the two Epistles present no marked peculiarities. The majority of them are compounds of the types prevailing in later Greek. Ἀμέμπτως recurs twice (or thrice), and is paralleled by ἄμεμπτος in Philippians and elsewhere; ἔνδειγμα is a variant of ἐνδείκνυμι, ἔνδειξις, both Pauline, and all classical; ὑπερεκπερισσῶς (eminently Pauline) is all but the same as -οῦ; ἀναμένω, ἄτακτος &c., ἐκδιώκω, κέλευσμα, κολακία, ὁσίως, περιεργάζομαι, περιλείπομαι, προπάσχω, τίνω, ὑπερβαίνω are classical words of everyday speech, incidentally employed here; ἀπορφανίζω, ἐνορκίζω, ὑπεραυξάνω are rare intensives, due to the occasion; ἐνκαυχάομαι, ἐξηχέω, καλοποιέω, ὀλιγόψυχος, ὁλοτελής, περικεφαλαία, σημειόω, συμφυλέτης may be distinguished as words of the κοινή, most of them found in the LXX but not confined to Biblical Greek. Of ἐνδοξάζω there is no other example outside the LXX. Σαίνεσθαι, if meaning “to be shaken,” would be a hapax-legomenon in sense; but see the Expository Note on 1 Thessalonians 3:3. The only absolutely unique expressions of the two Epistles are ὀμείρομαι—supposed to be a dialectic variant of ἱμείρομαι (see Expository Note on 1 Thessalonians 2:8)—and the obvious compound θεοδίδακτος, the elements of which are given by Isaiah 54:13 (John 6:45; cf. Expository Note on 1 Thessalonians 4:9). There is nothing in the Greek of these Epistles that would present any difficulty to a contemporary reader moderately acquainted with the Hellenistic phraseology of the Jewish synagogues and schools of the Diaspora. Beyond a few Hebraistic locutions, such as υἱὸς σκότους, ἀπωλείας, &c., στέφανος καυχήσεως, δοκιμάζειν and στηρίζειν τὰς καρδίας, and perhaps εἰς ἀπάντησιν, there is little or nothing of distinctively “Biblical” Greek to be found in them, and few technical terms of theology: in this respect they resemble 1 and 2 Corinthians, and differ from Romans and Galatians. As Deissmann shows in his “Bible Studies,” the amount of this element in the language of the N.T. has been exaggerated; many expressions formerly supposed to be peculiar to the Greek of the Bible are proved by Inscriptions and the Papyri to have been current in the vernacular of New Testament times.

The Epistles betray no special linguistic associations with other N.T. writings beyond St Paul’s, apart from the connexion of certain passages in 1 Thessalonians with the prophecies of Jesus, to which reference will be made later, and the striking manner in which the Apocalyptic imagery and phrases of O. T. prophecy are woven into the tissue of 2 Thessalonians. The difficulties of structure and expression marking 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 indicate the introduction by the original writer of some non-Pauline, and probably liturgical, sentences (see Expository Notes). 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 has a number of verbal correspondences with the parallel passage in 1 Corinthians. In point of syntax, there is nothing really exceptional to note. The Pauline periodic structure of sentences prevails throughout both Epistles.

In STYLE the Epistles are almost identical—a statement to be understood, however, with the qualification stated in the previous chapter, that in the large part of the 2nd Epistle in which it repeats the substance of the 1st, the freshness and point of the earlier Letter are somewhat to seek. The characteristic features of St Paul’s dialect and manner are very apparent; but they have not yet assumed the bold and developed form presented by the Epistles of the second group. In wealth of language, in rhetorical and literary power, as in force of intellect and spiritual passion, these writings do not rise to the height of some of the later Epistles. Nor should we expect this. The Apostle’s style is the most natural and unstudied in the world. It is, as Renan said, “conversation stenographed.” In Galatians and 2 Corinthians, where he is labouring under great excitement of feeling, face to face with malignant enemies and with his disaffected or wavering children, his language is full of passion and grief, vehement, broken, passing in a moment from rebuke to tenderness, from lofty indignation to an almost abject humility—now he “speaks mere flames,” but the sentence ends in pity and tears; “yea, what earnestness, what clearing of” himself, “what indignation, what yearning, what jealousy, what avenging!” In Romans and Galatians, again, you watch the play of St Paul’s keen and dexterous logic, sweeping and massive generalization, daring inference, vivid illustration, swift retort, and an eagerness that leaps to its conclusion over intervening steps of argument indicated by a bare word or turn of phrase in passing. But these Epistles afford little room for such qualities of style. They are neither passionate nor argumentative, but practical, consolatory, prompted by affection, by memory and hope. Hence they represent “St Paul’s normal style” (Lightfoot), the way in which he would commonly talk or write to his friends. For this reason, as well as for their historical priority, 1 and 2 Thessalonians form the best introduction to the writings of St Paul.

In general character and tone, in the simplicity and ease of expression which especially marks 1 Thessalonians, and in the absence of the dialectic mannerisms, the apostrophes and ellipses, distinguishing the polemical Epistles, these Letters resemble that to the Philippians. But it is remarkable that the Epistle to the Philippians, without any cause for this in its subject-matter, contains twice as many hapax-legomena to the chapter as are found in our Epistles. For Philippians was written nearly ten years later (see pp. lv. f.).

1 Thessalonians 1:2-5; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; 2 Thessalonians 2:8-10, are good examples of St Paul’s characteristic practice of extending his sentences to an indefinite length in qualifying and explanatory clauses, by the use of participles and relative pronouns and conjunctions. Later Epistles (Ephesians especially) show how this feature of style also grew upon him. In the third of the above instances the paragraph is so disjointed, that some further explanation appears necessary (see p. lvii. above, and Expository Notes). In 1 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Thessalonians 2:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:4-6; 1 Thessalonians 4:14, 2 Thessalonians 1:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:7; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, we find instances of ellipsis and anacoluthon—of those altered or broken sentences, and dropped words left to the reader’s understanding, to which the student of St Paul is accustomed. 2 Thessalonians 2:7 gives an example of inverted structure resembling Galatians 2:10. 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15 (the Jews—who killed the Lord Jesus, &c.); 1 Thessalonians 5:8-9 (salvation—for God did not appoint us to wrath, &c.); 2 Thessalonians 1:10 (that believed—for our testimony addressed to you was believed), illustrate St Paul’s curious fashion of “going off upon a word,” where some term he happens to use suddenly suggests an idea that draws him aside from the current of the sentence, which he perhaps resumes in an altered form. In 1 Thessalonians 2:4; 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20; 1 Thessalonians 3:6-7; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-5, 2 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:10; 2 Thessalonians 2:12, we see how expressions of the Apostle are apt to return upon and repeat themselves in a changed guise. In 2 Thessalonians the repetition of the same word or phrase is so frequent as to constitute a distinct mannerism of the Epistle; 42 doublets of this nature are counted. 1 Thessalonians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:23, 2 Thessalonians 3:2-3; 2 Thessalonians 3:11 (ἐργαζομένουςπεριεργαζομένους) exemplify the fondness, shared by St Paul with many great writers, for paronomasia.

Beside the hapax-legomena enumerated on pp. lvi. f., there are a number of verbal usages characteristic of these Letters and not recurring later in St Paul’s writings: viz. αὐτὸς δὲ ὁ θεός (or κύριος) at the beginning of prayers (1 Thessalonians 3:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:16); the use of the bare optative in prayers to God (add 2 Thessalonians 3:16 to the above), Romans 15:5 affording the only other Pauline example; αὐτοὶ οἴδατε, καθὼς (καθάπερ) οἴδατε (1 Thessalonians 1:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:1 f., 5, 11, 1 Thessalonians 3:3 f., 1 Thessalonians 5:2, 2 Thessalonians 3:7); ἔργον πίστεως (1 Thessalonians 1:3, 2 Thessalonians 1:11); εἶναι πρός (1 Thessalonians 3:4, 2 Thessalonians 2:5; 2 Thessalonians 3:10 : elsewhere γίνομαι and παρεῖναι πρός); στέγω to in the sense of 1 Thessalonians 3:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:5; κατευθύνω (1 Thessalonians 3:11, 2 Thessalonians 3:5); ἅμα σύν (1 Thessalonians 4:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:10); παρακαλεῖτε ἀλλήλους (1 Thessalonians 4:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:11); τοῦτο γὰρ (ἐστιν) θέλημα (τοῦ) θεοῦ (1 Thessalonians 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:18); στηρίζειν τὴν καρδίαν (1 Thessalonians 3:13, 2 Thessalonians 2:17 : the verb St Paul only uses in Romans besides); ὀφείλω εὐχαριστεῖν (2 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:13); περιποίησις in the active sense (1 Thessalonians 5:9, 2 Thessalonians 2:14); παρουσία (of the Second Advent), only in 1 Corinthians 15:23 besides. Philippians 4:3 gives the only other Pauline instance of ἐρωτάω employed in the sense of 1 Thessalonians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 2 Thessalonians 2:1.

Not one quotation from the Old Testament, nor from any other literary source, is found in the Thessalonian Epistles. The writers are addressing Gentile converts, and in such a way that Scriptural proof and illustration are not required. But allusions to O. T. teaching are rife. The writer of 2 Thessalonians has his mind full of the apocalyptic ideas of the Books of Isaiah and Daniel, to a less extent of Ezekiel and the Psalter; his prophetical and hortatory passages are so steeped in the O. T., beyond what is common with St Paul, that this fact is even urged as evidence for inauthenticity. Compare

1 Thessalonians 2:12 with 4 [2] Ezra 2:37;

1 Thessalonians 2:16 with Genesis 15:16;

1 Thessalonians 2:19 with Isaiah 62:3, Ezekiel 16:12, Proverbs 16:31;

1 Thessalonians 4:5 with Psalms 78:6, &c.;

1 Thessalonians 4:8 with Isaiah 63:11;

1 Thessalonians 5:8 with Isaiah 59:17;

1 Thessalonians 5:22 with Job 1:1; Job 1:8.

2 Thessalonians 1:8 with Isaiah 66:15;

2 Thessalonians 1:9-10 with Isaiah 2:10 f., Isaiah 2:17; Isaiah 2:19-21;

also with Isaiah 49:3, Psalms 88:8;

and Malachi 3:17 (in that day);

2 Thessalonians 1:12 with Isaiah 66:5;

2 Thessalonians 2:4 with Daniel 11:36, Isaiah 14:14, Ezekiel 28:2, &c.;

2 Thessalonians 2:8 with Isaiah 11:4, Daniel 7:9-11;

2 Thessalonians 2:11 with Ezekiel 14:9;

2 Thessalonians 2:13 with Deuteronomy 33:12;

2 Thessalonians 3:16 with Numbers 6:26.

Bornemann traces through 2 Thessalonians a chain of resemblances in language and idea to Isaiah 24 ff., also to Psalms 88, 93, 105.

Quite unusual in St Paul are the repeated and sustained echoes of the words of Jesus to be found in 1 Thessalonians in the passages relating to the Judgement and Second Coming. Compare

1 Thessalonians 2:15 f. with Matthew 23:29-39, Luke 11:45-52; Luke 13:33 ff.;

1 Thessalonians 4:16 f. with Matthew 24:30 f.;

1 Thessalonians 5:1-6 with Matthew 24:36-44, Luke 12:38-40; Luke 12:46;

also 2 Thessalonians 2:2 with Matthew 24:4-6.

The general form of the Letters of St Paul is moulded on the Epistolary style of the period; and this is especially evident in their commencement and conclusion. The Egyptian Greek Papyri afford numerous parallels to his opening εὐχαριστία, in which μνεία, προσευχή, ἀδιαλείπτως recur—the two former words passim. In ordinary correspondence it was a usual thing to begin with pious expressions of gratitude and references to prayer. The Apostle fills out the conventional formulæ of greeting, giving to them a new sacredness and weight of meaning. See Deissmann’s Bible Studies, pp. 21 ff.; and J. Rendel Harris in Expositor, V. VIII. 161–180, “A study in Letter-writing.” The argumentative and hortatory parts of his Epistles resemble the διατριβή of the contemporary Stoic schools, and may be illustrated from the Dissertationes of Epictetus.

In their CHARACTER these oldest extant Epistles of the Apostle Paul may now be easily described. They are the letters of a missionary, written to an infant Church quite recently brought from heathen darkness into the marvellous light of the Gospel. They lie nearer, therefore, to the missionary preaching of St Paul (Acts 14:15-17; Acts 17:22-31, &c.) than do any of the later Epistles. This accounts for their simplicity, for the absence of controversy and the elementary nature of their doctrine, and for the emphasis that is thrown in 1 Thessalonians upon the relation of the readers through the gospel to God.

They are addressed to a Macedonian Church, and they manifest in common with the Epistle to the (Macedonian) Philippians a peculiar warmth of feeling and mutual confidence between writer and readers. The first of the two is a singularly affectionate Letter. (For the second, see the observations on pp. xlviii. ff.) From 2 Corinthians 8:1-6 we gather that the generosity which endeared the Phillippians to St Paul (Philippians 4:14-17) distinguished Macedonian Christians generally. The writers can hardly find words tender enough or images sufficiently strong to express their regard for the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 2:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:11; 1 Thessalonians 2:17; 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20; 1 Thessalonians 3:9). St Paul feels his very life bound up with this community (1 Thessalonians 3:8). The missionaries boast of their Thessalonian converts everywhere (2 Thessalonians 1:4). If they exhort them, their warnings are blended with commendations, lest it might be thought there is some fault to find (1 Thessalonians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:9 f., 1 Thessalonians 5:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:4). Again and again the Apostle repeats, more than in any other Letter, “You yourselves know,” “Remember ye not?” and the like,—so sure is he that his readers bear in mind the teaching at first received and are in hearty accord with it. In like fashion, when writing to the Philippians, the Apostle gives thanks to God “for your fellowship in the Gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:5).

Further, these two are especially cheering and consolatory letters. St Paul had sent Timothy to “encourage” the Thessalonians “concerning their faith” (1 Thessalonians 3:2); in writing the First Epistle on Timothy’s return he pursues the same object. Persecution was the lot of this Church from the beginning (1 Thessalonians 3:4; Acts 17:5-9), as it continued to be afterwards (2 Corinthians 8:2 : cf. what was written to Philippi ten years later, Philippians 1:28 ff.); death had visited them, clouding their hopes for the future lot of departing kindred. The Apostle bends all his efforts to encourage his distressed friends. He teaches them to glory in tribulation; he makes them smile through their tears. He reveals the “weight of glory” that their afflictions are working out for them; he describes the Christian dead as “fallen asleep through Jesus,” and coming back to rejoin their living brethren on His return (1 Thessalonians 4:13 ff.). He shows them—and to a generous Christian nature there is no greater satisfaction—how much their brave endurance is furthering the cause of Christ and of truth (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8; 2 Thessalonians 1:3 f.), and how it comforts and helps himself and his companions in their labours. The Second Epistle is designed to allay causeless agitation respecting the advent of Christ, to recall to the ranks of industry some who had taken occasion to neglect their avocations, so disturbing the peace of the community and burdening it with their support. But along with these reproofs, and with the most solemn denunciation of future judgement for persecutors and rejecters of the truth, the commendatory and consolatory strain of the First Epistle is maintained in the Second.

Finally, these are eschatological Epistles: they set forth “the last things” in Christian doctrine—the Second Coming of the Redeemer, the restoration of the dead and transformation of the living saints, the final judgement of mankind; they announce the coming of Antichrist as the forerunner and Satanic counterpart of the returning Christ. Chap. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 in 2 Thessalonians is called the Pauline Apocalypse, since it holds in St Paul’s Epistles a place corresponding to that of the Book of Revelation in the writings of St John. We have previously suggested (chap. 3) circumstances which may have led the Apostle Paul to dwell upon this subject. The prolonged persecution under which the Thessalonians laboured, served to incline their thoughts in the same direction—toward the heavenly kingdom which, they hoped, would soon arrive to put an end to the miseries of “this present evil world.” In the comparative ease and pleasantness of our own lives, we perhaps find it difficult to understand the degree to which the minds of Christians in early times were absorbed in thoughts of this nature.

By their eschatological views and teachings these Letters are linked to chap. 15 of 1 Corinthians, the next of the Epistles in order of time. Subsequently the subject of the parousia retreats into the shade in his writings. For this, two or three causes may be suggested. Between the writing of 1 and 2 Corinthians St Paul suffered from a sickness which brought him to the gates of death (2 Corinthians 1:8-10; 2 Corinthians 4:7 to 2 Corinthians 5:8), and which profoundly affected his inner experience: from this time he anticipated that death would end his earthly career (Philippians 1:20 f.; Acts 20:24; 2 Timothy 4:6-8; 2 Timothy 4:18). Beside this, the disturbing effect of pre-occupation with the Second Advent at Thessalonica, and the morbid excitement to which it gave rise in some minds, may have led him to make this subject less prominent in later teaching. As time went on and the kingdom of Christ penetrated the Roman Empire and entered into closer relations with existing society, the Apostle came to realize the need for a longer development of Christianity, for a slower and more pervasive action of the “leaven” which Christ had put into “the kneading” of human life, than could be counted upon at an earlier stage. In St Paul’s last Letters, however, to his helpers Timothy and Titus, he reverts frequently and fondly to “that blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). Long ago he had reconciled himself, with reluctance, to the fact that he must first indeed be “absent from the body” in order to be “present with the Lord.” Still “the coming of the Lord Jesus,” whether it should be in the first or fourth watch of the night, was the mark of his labours; it was the summit, to his eyes, of all Christian hope. These two fervent Epistles, with their bright horizon of promise crossed by lurid thunder-clouds, breathe the constant desire of the Church with which the book of Scripture closes:




THE text of 1 and 2 Thessalonians stands on the same footing as that of the other Pauline Epistles. It has been faithfully preserved, and comes down to us amply attested by witnesses of the first rank in each of the three orders—Greek Codices, Versions, and Patristic writers. Westcott and Hort find occasion in their critical edition to mark only a single word, viz. ἐπιστεύθη in 2 Thessalonians 1:10, as a case of “primitive corruption” which raises suspicion of error in all the oldest witnesses. The five primary Greek Uncials, of the fourth and fifth centuries, are available: the Vaticanus (B), the Sinaiticus (א), the Alexandrinus (A), Codex Ephraemi rescriptus (C)—this with lacunæ, and Codex Claromontanus (D). Of secondary but considerable importance are Boernerianus (G); H, surviving in detached leaves variously designated, extant here only in two fragments, viz. 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13; 1 Thessalonians 4:5-11; Porfirianus (P), defective in 1 Thessalonians 3:5 to 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The inferior uncials—Dc, Moscuensis (K), and Angelicus (L)—contain a text purely of the later (“received”) type. E (Sangermanensis) is a mere copy of D and its correctors; F (Augiensis) is practically identical with G above: it is idle to quote these two, where they bring no new evidence. Amongst the Minuscules several are approved by the critics as containing ancient readings, and deserve to rank with GHP above-mentioned; 17, 37, 47, 73 are those chiefly adduced in the Textual Notes below, along with the precious readings of the annotator of 67, known as 67**.

The various copies of the pre-Hieronymian Latin Version and recensions (latt) come into court along with the Vulgate (vg): MSS. of special note are occasionally discriminated—as am, the Codex Amiatinus; fu, Fuldensis; harl, Harleianus, &c. The three Egyptian Versions appear as cop (Coptic or Memphitic), sah (Sahidic or Thebaic), and basm (Bashmuric). In Syriac, there is the Peshitto (pesh) or Syriac Vulgate, conformed to the later, settled mould (called by Westcott and Hort the “Syrian” recension) of the Greek original; and the Harclean (hcl)—later in date but largely older in substance—with its text and margin. The Gothic (go), Æthiopic (aeth), and Armenian (arm) are outlying Versions, which furnish readings of confirmatory value, as they indicate the trend of the Greek text in different regions at the time of their making. The Greek Fathers—Irenæus (through his Latin interpreter), Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus, Origen, Didymus, Eusebius, Euthalius, Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret, Cyril of Alexandria, Theophylact, Oecumenius; and the Latins—Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose, ‘Ambrosiaster,’ Jerome (Hieronymus), Damasus, Augustine, Lucifer of Calaris, Vigilius—are cited by the recognized abbreviations.

The characteristics of the different groups, and of the more strongly featured Codices and Versions, stand out with some prominence in the text of these Epistles[16]. 1 Thessalonians 3:2 (the description of Timothy) affords a signal example of the “conflate” nature of the Syrian recension, exemplified in KL and prevailingly in P, in the bulk of the minuscules, in the Peshitto Syriac and Chrysostom; 1 Thessalonians 4:1 (the omission of καθὼς καὶ περιπατεῖτε) illustrates its tendency to smooth out the creases of St Paul’s style. The idiosyncrasies of the “Western” clan (DG, latt, and Latin Fathers frequently) reveal themselves again and again: see, in this connexion, the Textual Notes on 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 2:14 (ἀπό), Th_2:16 (ὀργὴ τοῦ θεοῦ), 1 Thessalonians 3:2 (where the Western recension is suspected of having caused the confusion by adding τοῦ θεοῦ to συνεργόν), 1 Thessalonians 4:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, 1 Thessalonians 5:13 (ἐν αὐτοῖς), 2 Thessalonians 1:4 (καυχᾶσθαι), 2 Thessalonians 2:2 (repeated μηδέ), 2 Thessalonians 2:3 (ἁμαρτίας), 2 Thessalonians 2:8 (ἀναλοῖ), 2 Thessalonians 2:10 (ἀληθείας Χριστοῦ), 2 Thessalonians 3:4; 2 Thessalonians 3:14 (-μίσγεσθαι), 2 Thessalonians 3:16. G has some glaring Latinisms, indicating a reaction of the Western versions on the Greek text: see 1 Thessalonians 2:3; 1 Thessalonians 2:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 2 Thessalonians 2:4. Erroneous Syrian readings are often traceable to a “Western” invention. Instances may be noted in which the tendencies of Alexandrian copyists to smoothness and classicalism of expression, and to harmonistic agreement, seem to be in evidence: 1 Thessalonians 1:1 (the completion of the form of salutation, Alexandrian and Western), 1 Thessalonians 1:5 (τοῦ θεοῦ), 1 Thessalonians 2:2 (the reading (a) of the Textual Notes), 1 Thessalonians 4:1 (cancelling of first ἵνα), 1 Thessalonians 4:8; 1Th_4:11, 1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 Thessalonians 5:27 (insertion of ἁγίοις), 2 Thessalonians 3:6 (? -οσαν[17], belonging to the Alexandrian vernacular). The unique value of B is shown by the fact that it records alone, or nearly alone, a series of readings which intrinsic and transcriptional probability point out as possibly original, notwithstanding the solitary attestation: see 1 Thessalonians 2:16 (ἔφθακεν), 1 Thessalonians 3:2, 1 Thessalonians 4:9, 1 Thessalonians 5:9 (ὁ θεὸς ἡμᾶς and omission of Χριστοῦ), 2 Thessalonians 1:4 (ἐνέχεσθε), 1 Thessalonians 2:8 (om. Ἰησοῦς), 1 Thessalonians 3:4 (καὶ ἐποιήσατε καὶ ποιήσετε), 1 Thessalonians 3:6; 1Th_3:13. On the other hand, the palpable mistakes of B in 1 Thessalonians 3:1 (διότι), 1 Thessalonians 3:9 (ἡμῶν), 1 Thessalonians 4:17 (ἐν for σὺν κυρίῳ), 2 Thessalonians 3:14 (ἐπιστολῆς ὑμῶν), prove this great MS. to be far from impeccable. It is betrayed in 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 2 Thessalonians 2:2, by its habitual itacism, -ε for -αι.

Decision between alternative readings of the Greek text is very difficult in the case of ἤπιοινήπιοι, 1 Thessalonians 2:7; συνεργόνσυνεργὸν τοῦ θεοῦδιάκονον τοῦ θεοῦ, 1 Thessalonians 3:2; ἐνέχεσθεἀνέχεσθε, 2 Thessalonians 1:4; ἐν φλογὶ πυρόςἐν πυρὶ φλογός, 1 Thessalonians 1:8; the omission or retention of Ἰησοῦς in 1 Thessalonians 2:8; ἀναλοῖἀνελεῖ in same verse; the retention or omission of καί in 1 Thessalonians 2:14; the reading of the duplicate ποιέω-forms in 1 Thessalonians 3:4; παρελάβοσανπαρελάβετε in 1 Thessalonians 3:6. There is hesitation or difference amongst the critics in some other instances. e.g. in 1 Thessalonians 1:5 (ἐν before ὑμῖν), 7 (τύποντύπους), 9 (ἡμῶνὑμῶν), 1 Thessalonians 2:12 (καλοῦντοςκαλέσαντος), 16 (ἔφθακενἔφθασεν), 1 Thessalonians 3:4 (the augment of ηὐδοκήσαμεν), 13 (ἀμέμπτους or -ως, and the final ἀνήν), 1 Thessalonians 4:1 (? οὖν), 10 (? τούς), 1 Thessalonians 5:3 (? δέ), 4 (κλέπτηςκλέπτας), 10 (περίὑπέρ), 13 (ὑπερεκπερισσοῦ or -ῶς), 15 (? καί), 21 (? δέ), 25 (? καί), 27 (? ἁγίοις); in 2 Thessalonians 1:10 (ἐπιστεύθηἐπιστώθη), 1 Thessalonians 2:3 (ἀνομίαςἁμαρτίας), 12 (ἅπαντεςπάντες), 13 (ἀπʼ ἀρχῆςἀπαρχήν), 1 Thessalonians 3:6 (? ἡμῶν after κυρίου).

The conspectus of readings furnished in the Textual Notes hereafter will indicate the grounds of judgement in disputed cases; it may serve also to illustrate the peculiarities of the chief ancient witnesses, and, as it is hoped, to interest the student in questions of the Lower Criticism. The material is drawn mainly from the digest of critical evidence found in Tischendorf’s 8th edition. Kenyon’s or Nestle’s Manual will supply a full Introduction to the science of N. T. Textual Criticism; on a smaller scale, Warfield’s Introduction lays down clearly and skilfully the leading principles. Scrivener’s Introduction (the last edition), and C. R. Gregory’s Prolegomena to Tischendorf’s Novum Testamentum Grœce, contain the best accessible catalogues and descriptions of the documents.



I. IN 1 Thessalonians there are two clearly marked main divisions: chh. 1–3, personal; 4, 5, moral and doctrinal. [1] The first and chief part of the letter is an outpouring of the heart of the writers—i.e. of St Paul’s own heart especially—to their brethren in Thessalonica. The Apostle tells them what he thinks of them, how he prays for them and thanks God for what they are, for all they have attained and all they have endured as Christian believers. Then he talks about himself and his fellow-missionaries, reminding the readers of their work and behaviour at Thessalonica, informing them of his repeated attempts to return thither, of the circumstances under which had been sent Timothy instead, and the inexpressible delight given to himself and Silvanus by Timothy’s good report of their state and of their love for the absent Apostles.

[2] In 1 Thessalonians 3:1 of ch. 4 the author passes from narrative and prayer to exhortation. His homily bears chiefly on Christian morals,—“how you ought to walk and to please God.” In the midst of this condensed and powerful address there is introduced the great passage relating to the παρουσία (ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:13 to 1 Thessalonians 5:11), informing the readers more definitely what they should believe on this vital matter of faith, to them so profoundly interesting, respecting which they had gathered defective and misleading notions. The misunderstandings and the agitations existing in the Church upon this subject affected its “walk”; they were disturbing to the Church’s peace and prejudicial to its soberness of thought and joy of faith. Hence the introduction of the doctrinal question at this stage and in this form.

II. The Second Epistle contains but little personal matter, and is in this respect strikingly different from the First. After the Thanksgiving, occupying the first chapter, which enlarges on the punishment in store for the Church’s persecutors in contrast with the rest and glory destined for Christ’s faithful sufferers, the author proceeds at once to the questions of doctrine and discipline which called for this further instruction. This Epistle bears therefore a supplementary character, dealing more at large with certain matters that were treated incidentally in the First and setting them in a somewhat different light. Chaps. 2 and 3 of the 2nd Epistle correspond to chaps. 4 and 5 of the 1st; but they do not range over the same variety of topics. [1] Ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 disposes of the false alarm about the parousia, which was producing, it appears, quite a demoralizing excitement; [2] ch. 1 Thessalonians 3:6-13 is addressed to the case of certain idlers and busybodies, whose obstinate indiscipline compels the Apostles to take severe measures for their correction. The intervening part of the Letter, ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 to 1 Thessalonians 3:5, is taken up with thanksgiving, prayer, and exhortation of a general character; these paragraphs echo the thoughts and expressions of 1 Thessalonians in a manner quite unusual with the Apostle Paul, even in the case of Epistles most nearly allied in their subject and time of composition.

The exposition of the two Letters is based upon the following plan:

1st Epistle

§ 1. Address and Salutation, 1 Thessalonians 1:1

§ 2. Thanksgiving for the Thessalonian Church, 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10.

§ 3. The Conduct of the Apostles at Thessalonica, 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12.

§ 4. Fellowship in Persecution with the Judæan Churches, 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16.

§ 5. The Separation of the Apostles from their Converts, 1 Thessalonians 2:17 to 1 Thessalonians 3:5.

§ 6. The Good News brought by Timothy, 1 Thessalonians 3:6-13.

§ 7. A Lesson in Christian Morals, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12.

§ 8. Concerning them that Fall Asleep, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

§ 9. The Coming of the Day, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11.

§ 10. The Church’s Internal Discipline, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15.

§ 11. Directions for Holy Living, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24.

§ 12. The Conclusion, 1 Thessalonians 5:25-28.

2nd Epistle

§ 1. Salutation and Thanksgiving, 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4.

§ 2. The Approaching Judgement, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10.

§ 3. The Revelation of the Lawless One, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12.

§ 4. Words of Comfort and Prayer, 2 Thessalonians 2:13 to 2 Thessalonians 3:5.

§ 5. The Case of the Idlers, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13.

§ 6. Conclusion of the Letter, 2 Thessalonians 3:16-18.

The scheme of Epistle II., it will be observed, is much simpler than that of Epistle I. In other words, 1 Thessalonians is an unconstrained, discursive letter; 2 Thessalonians is more of a calculated homily.

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