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Bible Commentaries
1 Thessalonians

Clarke's CommentaryClarke Commentary

- 1 Thessalonians

by Adam Clarke

Preface to the First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Thessalonians

Thessalonica, now called by the Turks Salonichi, a mere corruption of its ancient name, is a seaport town of Turkey in Europe, situated on what was called the Thermaic Gulf, and was anciently the capital of Macedonia. According to Stephanus Byzantinus, it was embellished and enlarged by Philip, king of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, who called it Thessalonica, or the Victory of Thessalia, on account of the victory he obtained there over the Thessalians; prior to which it was called Thermae. Strabo, Tzetzes, and Zonaras say that it obtained the name of Thessalonica from Thessalonica, wife of Cassander, and daughter of Philip.

In 1431, it was taken from the Venetians by the Turks, in whose possession it still continues. It is still a large, rich, and populous city, being ten miles in circumference, and carrying on an extensive trade in silk, the principal merchants being Greek Christians and Jews.

Christianity has never been extinct in Thessalonica since the year 51 or 52, in which it was planted there by the Apostle Paul; see Acts 17:0, etc. It contains at present thirty churches belonging to the Greek Christians, and as many Jewish synagogues, besides some Mohammedan mosques. Thessalonica is the see of an archbishop; and is well fortified, being surrounded with walls flanked with towers, and defended on the land side by a citadel; and near the harbor, with three forts.

St. Paul, in company with Silas, first preached the Gospel in this city and the adjacent country, about a.d. 52 or 53. Though the Jews, who were sojourners in this city, rejected the Gospel in general, yet a great multitude of the devout Greeks, i.e., such as were proselytes to Judaism, or the descendants of Jewish parents, born and naturalized in Greece, believed and associated with Paul and Silas, and not a few of the chief women of the city embraced the Christian faith. Acts 17:4.

As the Jews found that, according to the doctrine of the Gospel, the Gentiles were called to enjoy the same privileges with themselves, without being obliged to submit to circumcision and other ordinances of the law, they persecuted that Gospel, and those who proclaimed it; for, moved with indignation, they employed certain lewd fellows of the baser sort - the beasts of the people, set the city on an uproar, assaulted the house of Jason, where the apostles lodged, dragged him and certain brethren before the rulers, and charged them with seditious designs and treason against the Roman emperor! The apostles escaped, and got to Berea, where they began anew their important evangelical labors: thither the Jews of Thessalonica, pursuing them, raised a fresh tumult; so that the apostle, being counselled by the brethren, made his escape to Athens; Acts 17:5-15. Thus he followed the command of his Master: Being persecuted in one city, he fled to another; not to hide himself, but to proclaim, in every place, the saving truths of the Gospel of Christ.

It does not appear that St. Paul stayed long at Athens; he soon went thence to Corinth, where Timothy and Silas were, but probably not before Timothy met him, for whom he had sent, Acts 17:15, to come to him speedily; and whom, it appears, he sent immediately back to Thessalonica, to establish the believers there, and comfort them concerning the faith; 1 Thessalonians 3:2. While Paul abode at Corinth, Timothy and Silas came to him from Thessalonica, and hearing by them of the steadfastness of the Thessalonian converts in the faith of Christ, he wrote this epistle, and shortly after the second, to comfort and encourage them; to give them farther instructions in the doctrines of Christianity, and to rectify some mistaken views, relative to the day of judgment, which had been propagated amongst them. See the preface to the second epistle.

Who the persons were who formed the apostolic Church at Thessalonica is not easy to determine. They were not Jews, for these in general persecuted the apostle and the Gospel in this place. We are therefore left to infer that the Church was formed, 1st, of Jewish proselytes, called, Acts 17:4, devout Greeks. And 2dly, of converts from heathenism; for, on the preaching of the Gospel to them, it is said; 1 Thessalonians 1:9, that they turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God. Though some of the Jews believed on the preaching of Paul and Silas, Acts 17:3, Acts 17:4, yet it is evident that the great bulk of the Church was composed of Grecian proselytes and converts from heathenism. Hence we find in this epistle but few allusions to the Jews, and but few references to the peculiarities of their religious or civil institutions.

There is a remarkable reading in the text of Acts 17:4, which I neglected to quote in the note on that place: instead of των σεβομενων, Ελληνων πολυ πληθος, of devout Greeks a great multitude; the Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Bezae, both in the Greek and Latin, two others, with the Vulgate, read των σεβομενων και Ἑλληνων, of the devout, i.e., those who worshipped the true God; And of the Greeks, i.e., those who were previously heathens, a great multitude; so that,

1. Some few Jews;

2. A great number of those who acknowledged the true God; and

3. A great multitude of heathens, besides many of the chief women, received the doctrine preached by the apostle, and became members of the Church at Thessalonica. See Dr. Paley's remarks on this various reading.

The First Epistle to the Thessalonians is allowed on all hands to be the first epistle that St. Paul wrote to any of the Churches of God; and from it two things may be particularly noted:

1. That the apostle was full of the Spirit of love;

2. That the Church at Thessalonica was pure, upright, and faithful, as we scarcely find any reprehension in the whole epistle: the Thessalonian converts had Faith that worked, a Love that labored, and a Hope which induced them to bear afflictions patiently and wait for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This epistle has been divided into different parts by commentators; but these are arbitrary, the apostle having made no division of this kind; for, although he treats of several subjects, yet he has not so distinguished them from each other as to show that he had any formal division in his mind. In the divisions imposed on this epistle by commentators we do not find two of them alike; a full proof that the apostle has made no divisions, else some of these learned men would have certainly found them out. Technical distinctions of this nature are of little use to a proper understanding of the contents of this epistle.

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