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- 1 Thessalonians
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
General Editor: J. J. S. PEROWNE, D.D.
Bishop of Worcester
the epistles to the
with introduction, notes and map
rev. george g. findlay, b.a.
professor of biblical languages in the wesleyan college,
at the university press
[ All Rights reserved .]
sketch map of macedonia and achaia
illustrating the epistles to the thessalonians
by the General Editor
The General Editor of The Cambridge Bible for Schools thinks it right to say that he does not hold himself responsible either for the interpretation of particular passages which the Editors of the several Books have adopted, or for any opinion on points of doctrine that they may have expressed. In the New Testament more especially questions arise of the deepest theological import, on which the ablest and most conscientious interpreters have differed and always will differ. His aim has been in all such cases to leave each Contributor to the unfettered exercise of his own judgment, only taking care that mere controversy should as far as possible be avoided. He has contented himself chiefly with a careful revision of the notes, with pointing out omissions, with suggesting occasionally a reconsideration of some question, or a fuller treatment of difficult passages, and the like.
Beyond this he has not attempted to interfere, feeling it better that each Commentary should have its own individual character, and being convinced that freshness and variety of treatment are more than a compensation for any lack of uniformity in the Series.
The care of this volume of the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges was intrusted in the first instance to the Rev. W. F. Moulton, D.D., Headmaster of the Leys School, Cambridge, who was compelled by the pressure of other duties to relinquish the work. This he did (as he permits me to say) with very great reluctance and regret. It is a loss to all who may have occasion to use this book, that It is prepared by other hands than those of the original Editor.
I am happy to state, however, that Dr Moulton has not only favoured me with most valuable counsels and suggestions in the preparation of the Commentary, but has, under conditions of peculiar difficulty, found time to revise the proof-sheets; and the following pages, however defective in other respects, will bear some traces of his extreme accuracy, his admirable judgement and finished scholarship.
GEO. G. FINDLAY.
Headingley, January , 1891.
Chapter I. The City of Thessalonica
Chapter II. How the Gospel came to Thessalonica
Chapter III. The Gospel of Paul at Thessalonica
Chapter IV. The Occasion of the Two Epistles
Chapter V. The Genuineness of the Two Epistles
Chapter VI. The Style and Character of the Two Epistles
Chapter VII. Analysis and Digest of the Epistles
II. Text and Notes
III. Appendix. On the Man of Lawlessness
* * * The Text adopted in this Edition is that of Dr Scrivener’s Cambridge Paragraph Bible . A few variations from the ordinary Text, chiefly in the spelling of certain words, and in the use of italics, will be noticed. For the principles adopted by Dr Scrivener as regards the printing of the Text see his Introduction to the Paragraph Bible , published by the Cambridge University Press.
“The Apostolic Letters, which made glad
The young and foe-girt Churches of the Lord.”
Aubrey De Vere.
art thou the christ, the son of the blessed! and jesus said, i am: and ye shall see the son of man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.
The City of Thessalonica
Most of the ancient cities in which St Paul laboured have in the course of ages either perished or sunk into insignificance. Rome still remains, “the eternal city,” holding a unique place amongst the world’s great capitals. And along with Rome, though in a far inferior position, Thessalonica has retained its identity and its importance throughout the immense changes of the last two thousand years.
The town first appears In Greek history under the name of Therma , so called from the warm mineral springs in its vicinity. Its later designation was given to it by Cassander, who on seizing the vacant throne of Alexander the Great in Macedonia married his sister Thessalonica . Her name was, no doubt, a memorial of some victory gained by her father Philip of Macedon over his neighbours in Thessaly.
Founding a new city upon this site in 315 b.c., the usurper called it after his highborn wife. Cassander’s foundation rapidly grew into a place of commercial and political consequence. After the Roman conquest of Macedonia (168 b.c.), Thessalonica was made the head of one of the four districts into which the kingdom was divided, and on their subsequent reunion became the capital of the whole province. It was declared a “free city,” with important rights of self-government, after the civil war which ended with the defeat of Brutus and Cassius at Philippi (42 b.c.), having fortunately sided with the victors. Hence the Thessalonian magistrates are correctly designated “politarchs” in Acts 17:6 . At the same time, it was the seat of the Roman proconsular administration of Macedonia, and an important military station.
The geographer Strabo (about 24 b.c.) describes Thessalonica as the most populous town of Macedonia; a contemporary author speaks of it as “the mother of all Macedonia.” It is referred to in similar terms by Lucian in the second century, and by Theodoret in the fifth. At the beginning of the tenth century it is computed to have held a population of above 200,000. To-day, under the Turkish rule, Saloniki (or Salonica) numbers perhaps 100,000 souls, and is rapidly increasing. In size it is the third, and in importance quite the second, city of Turkey in Europe. The Jews still flourish here, even more than in the Apostle’s time; they form a third or more of the population. The remainder are chiefly Greeks, mixed with Turks and Bulgars. The city is now, as it was in the first century, the emporium of Macedonia and one of the chief ports of the Ægean. Saloniki is moreover the terminus of the great trunk line of railway recently completed, running south through the heart of the Balkan peninsula, which will give it largely the command of the trade of Central Europe with the Levant. It is destined still to play, in all probability, an important part in the political and religious history of South-Eastern Europe.
The city owes its importance to its geographical position. It stands in a remarkably fine and picturesque situation, on a hill sloping down to the sea, and guarded by high mountain ridges on both sides. Below the city there stretched far to the south-west the broad and well-sheltered Thermaic Gulf (now Gulf of Saloniki ), with the snowy heights of Mount Olympus, the fabled home of the Greek gods, bounding the horizon. This bay forms the north-western corner of the Ægean Sea, occupying the angle which the Greek peninsula makes with the mainland. It lies moreover near the mouth of the chief passes leading down from the Macedonian uplands, with the wide Danubian plains spread beyond them in the north. And in Roman times the city held a special importance from its situation midway between the Adriatic and Hellespont along the Via Egnatia , the great military road which formed the main artery linking Rome to her eastern provinces: posita in gremio imperii nostri , says Cicero. See the map facing the title-page.
Cicero spent some months in Thessalonica during his exile from Rome in 58 b.c., and again in Pompey’s winter camp, pitched here before the fatal battle of Pharsalus (48 b.c.); here he also halted on his way to and from Cilicia, his province in the East (51 50 b.c.); and from Thessalonica he wrote a number of characteristic letters, which it would be interesting to compare with those of the Apostle Paul addressed to the same place.
St Paul visited Macedonia a second time, on his way from Ephesus to Greece during the third missionary journey (Acts 20:1 , Acts 20:2 ), spending doubtless considerable time at Thessalonica; and we find two Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus (Acts 20:4 ), attending him on his subsequent voyage to Jerusalem. Aristarchus remained with the Apostle a long while, and is honourably mentioned in Colossians 4:10 , as “my fellow captive,” during his imprisonment at Rome. It was from Macedonia (the subscription states, conjecturally, “from Philippi”) that St Paul addressed, in 58 (or 57) a.d., his second Epistle to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 2:13 , 2 Corinthians 7:5 , 2 Corinthians 8:1 ). Writing to the Philippians (c. 63 a.d.) from his Roman prison, the Apostle “trusts in the Lord” that he will “come” to see them “shortly” (Philippians 2:24 ). And we find him some time after his release fulfilling this intention: “on my way to Macedonia” (1 Timothy 1:3 ). The last reference found in the N. T. to Thessalonica is in 2 Timothy 4:10 , and is an unhappy one: “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved the present world; and is gone to Thessalonica.” If Demas wished to make a fortune, Thessalonian trade would have more attraction for him than the company of a doomed and penniless prisoner in Rome. Perhaps he was a Thessalonian. Singularly enough, Thessalonica claims another Demetrius ( Demas is probably short for Demetrius ), a martyr of the Diocletian persecution (c. 303 a.d.), as her patron saint.
In Church history Thessalonica bears an honourable name. It was a bulwark of the Catholic faith and of the Greek Christian Empire in the early middle ages, when it bore the title of “the orthodox city 1 1 It should be said, however, that Tafel ( De Thessalonica ejusque agro , Berlin, 1839), our chief authority on the history of the city, conjectures that this epithet was conferred on Thessalonica because of its stubborn defence of Image-worship against the Iconoclastic Emperors of Constantinople in the eighth and ninth centuries. .” It was also an active centre of missionary evangelism amongst the Gothic, and afterwards the Slavonic invaders of the Balkan peninsula. In its energetic zeal for the cause of Christ the Church of Thessalonica nobly sustained the character given to it by St Paul in these Epistles. This city was the scene of a memorable tragedy, when in the year 390 the Emperor Theodosius, in revenge for some affront, ruthlessly massacred 15,000 of its inhabitants. For this act St Ambrose, the great Bishop of Milan, compelled the Emperor to do abject penance, refusing him communion for eight months until he submitted. Amongst the Bishops of Thessalonica, only one name is recorded of the first rank, that of Eustathius (died 1198 a.d.), who was the most learned scholar of his age and an active Church reformer. During the decay of the Byzantine empire, the city was for a time under Latin and later under Venetian rule. It underwent three memorable sieges, having been captured by the Saracens in 904; by Tancred of Sicily, the Norman Crusader, in 1185; and finally, by the Turkish Sultan Amurath II., in 1430 a.d.
Thessalonica possesses three ancient and beautiful Greek Churches turned into mosques, those of St Sophia 2 2 In the disastrous fire of September 4th, 1890, the mosque of St Sophia was destroyed a heavy and irreparable loss. As a monument and treasury of Byzantine art, this once Christian cathedral stood second only to St Sophia of Constantinople itself. , St George, and St Demetrius; as well as a few very valuable and interesting remains of Roman antiquity. It is now the seat of an influential Greek archbishopric.
How the Gospel came to Thessalonica
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 53 (or 52). He had slowly traversed Asia Minor from the south-east to the north-west, and was detained in Galatia by sickness for a considerable time; a circumstance which gave him the opportunity of preaching to that interesting people, amongst whom he founded at this time important Churches (Acts 16:6 , Acts 16:18 :23; Galatians 4:13-15 ). Twice again were his plans frustrated during this journey. His chief intention seems to have been to evangelize the Roman province of Asia (Acts 16:6 ), where he afterwards spent three fruitful years (Acts 20:31 ). This region, with its capital city Ephesus, was for the Apostle’s mission probably the most important district between Jerusalem and Rome. But for the present he was “prevented by the Holy Spirit.” A similar mysterious intimation arrested him when afterwards he was entering the northerly province of Bithynia: “the Spirit of Jesus suffered them not” (Acts 16:7 ). So St Paul and his companions. (Silas and Timothy) found themselves at the port of Troas, fronting Europe and the West, where St Luke also joined them; for just at this point (ver. 10) the narrator of the Acts passes from the third to the first person plural. It was here that the true goal of the Apostle’s journey disclosed itself, and the reason of God’s repeated interference with His servant’s designs. “A vision by night appeared to Paul. There was a man of Macedonia standing, beseeching him: Come Over to Macedonia, and help us!” In Macedonia the Gospel was to find a congenial soil and a people prepared for the Lord.
We need not repeat the story of the missionaries’ voyage across the Ægean, their journey inland to Philippi, their success and their sufferings in that city, all so graphically related by St Luke, who writes Acts 16:10-40 as an eye-witness. One reference in these Epistles the Apostle makes to his experience at Philippi: he writes in 1 Ephesians 2:2 , “Though we had already suffered and endured violence in Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak to you the good news of God.” The pleasanter side of his connection at this time with Philippi is intimated when, addressing the Philippians many years later, he recalls how “even in Thessalonica ye sent to supply my need, both once and twice” (Philippians 4:16 ).
Thessalonica lies a hundred miles west of Philippi along the Via Egnatia, a distance of three days’ journey. “Amphipolis and Apollonia” are mentioned in Acts 17:1 as the chief towns and halting places on the way. But these places the three evangelists “travelled through.” Thessalonica was their objective point. This city attracted the Apostle of the Gentiles on several accounts; and he was resolved to occupy it for Christ.
We have already, in Chap. I., described the position of Thessalonica and its growing importance as a centre of trade and population. There was an additional circumstance which gave the missionaries a vantage-ground here. At Philippi the Jews were not numerous or wealthy enough to boast a synagogue; only they had a proseucha , or retired oratory “by the riverside,” probably open to the air (Acts 16:13 ). In Thessalonica “there was a synagogue of the Jews” (Acts 17:1 ). It was not that St Paul expected to gain many converts from the synagogue itself; but round the Jewish synagogue there was usually gathered a circle of devout and enlightened Gentiles, in various stages of proselytism, weary of heathen superstition and philosophy, and instructed more or less in the Old Testament, but not prepossessed by the ingrained prejudice, the pride of religion and of race, and the scorn of a crucified Messiah which closed the ears of the Jews themselves against the truth of the Gospel. In this outlying circle of proselytes and synagogue-hearers, distinguished frequently by the presence of a number of the more refined and intelligent Greek women of the upper classes, St Paul was accustomed to find his best audiences. Here he gathered the nucleus of his Gentile Churches. At Thessalonica while “some” of the Jews “were persuaded and consorted with Paul and Silas,” a “great multitude of the devout Greeks” did so, “and of the chief women ( the ladies , as we should say, of the city ) not a few” (Acts 17:4 ). Such people could best be reached through the synagogue, and the Apostle felt it his duty to address himself to his own countrymen in the first instance (‘to the Jew first’), however often they might repel him; so “according to Paul’s custom he went in unto them, and for three sabbaths discoursed with them from the Scriptures, expounding and explaining that the Christ was bound to suffer and to rise from the dead, and that this is the Christ, this Jesus whom I preach to you” (Acts 17:3 ). After three weeks of this discussion the synagogue appears to have been closed against Paul and Silas. They only carried a small minority of their compatriots with them. But they must have continued for some time longer in the city, at least a month we should imagine, to have gathered and formed into a Church so large a community as the Epistles indicate, and to have carried them so far in Christian knowledge and discipline.
Before long, however, the jealousy of “the unbelieving Jews” at their success found means to arrest the work of the Apostles. They roused the city mob against them. The rioters attacked the house of Jason (his name is probably equivalent to Jesus ), a Jew of property who had accepted the faith of Christ and invited the missionaries to lodge with him. Not finding the two leaders, they seized Jason and some other Christians and “dragged” them before the magistrates, on the remarkable charge (1) of being revolutionaries “turning the world upside down,” and (2) of rebellion against the Roman Emperor , in “saying that there is another king, one Jesus” ( vv. 5 7). These charges, scattered broadcast, alarmed the “politarchs” as well as the common people (ver. 8); but they could not be sustained, and the accused were dismissed, security being taken for their good behaviour (ver. 9). The accusations brought against Paul and Silas were, however, a distortion of what they had actually preached, and may help us to understand the special character and drift of the Apostolic teaching in this city. The outbreak made it evident that St Paul’s unscrupulous enemies were determined, at any cost, to drive him from Thessalonica. He was now, as so frequently, in deadly “peril from his own countrymen” (2 Corinthians 11:26 ). “The brethren” insisted on his leaving them, and “sent Paul and Silas away by night immediately to Berœa” (ver. 10), an inland Macedonian town situated forty miles or more from Thessalonica, in the direction of Achaia.
The Gospel of Paul at Thessalonica
Now we may ask, What was the gospel brought to Thessalonica? Can we give to ourselves any precise account of the “good news” which “Paul and Silvanus and Timotheus” announced in this city, and which produced so powerful and enduring an effect? Further, was there anything special to the place and the occasion in the form which the Apostle’s message assumed, and which will serve to explain the peculiar tone of Christian feeling, the style of thought and cast of doctrine, that distinguished the faith of this great Macedonian Church in its first beginnings? To these questions the indications of the two Epistles, compared with the story of the Acts, enable us to give a tolerable answer.
(1) The foundation of St Paul’s teaching was laid in the proof of the Messiahship of Jesus , drawn from the prophecies of Scripture, compared with the facts of the life, death and resurrection of the Saviour. The method of this proof, briefly indicated in Acts 17:3 , is set forth at length in the report of his discourse at the Pisidian Antioch given by St Luke in the thirteenth chapter of the Acts.
(2) The purpose of Christ’s death and its bearing on human salvation must have been abundantly explained by the Apostles. So we infer not only from the central position of this subject in St Paul’s later Epistles, and from the prominence given to it in Acts 13:38 , Acts 13:39 , where the announcement of forgiveness of sins and justification by faith forms the climax of St Paul’s whole sermon; but the language of 1 Ephesians 5:8-10 leaves us in no doubt that the same “word of the cross” was proclaimed at Thessalonica which St Paul preached everywhere. Here “salvation” comes “through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us” a salvation from “the anger of God,” 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 was the great need of the Gentile world, which “knew not God,” and was enslaved to idolatry and shameful lusts (1 Ephesians 1:9 ; Ephesians 4:5 ; Ephesians 2:0 Ephesians 1:8 ).
Now we can understand all this in the light of Romans 1:16-25 , Romans 3:23-26 , Romans 5:1-11 , and as touching Him “whom God set forth in His blood a propitiation through faith”; but without such knowledge the Apostle’s language would have been equally unintelligible to the Thessalonians and to ourselves. Still it must be admitted, and it is remarkable, that very little is said in these two letters on the subject of the Atonement and Salvation by Faith. Evidently on these fundamental doctrines there was no dispute at Thessalonica. They were so fully accepted and understood in this Church, that it was unnecessary to dilate upon them; and the Apostle has other matters just now to deal with.
(3) The Church at Thessalonica being chiefly of heathen origin, St Paul and St Silas had said much to them of the falsity and wickedness of idolatry , completing the lessons which many of their disciples had already received in the synagogue. Their faith was emphatically a “ faith toward God the living and true God,” to Whom they had “turned from their idols” (this seems to imply that many Thessalonian Christians had been converted directly from paganism), and Whom they knew in “His Son” (1 Ephesians 1:9 , Ephesians 1:10 ). And this living and true God, the Father of the Lord Jesus, they had come to know and to approach as “our Father” (1 Ephesians 1:3 ; Ephesians 3:11 , Ephesians 3:13 ; Ephesians 2:0 Ephesians 2:16 ), Who was to them “the God of peace” (1 Ephesians 1:1 ; Ephesians 5:23 ; Ephesians 2:0 Ephesians 1:2 ), Who had “loved them and given them eternal comfort and good hope in grace,” had “chosen” them and “called them to enter His kingdom and glory,” Who “would count them worthy of their calling and accomplish in them all the desire of goodness and the work of faith,” Who had “given them His Holy Spirit,” Whose “will” was their “sanctification,” Whose “word” was ever “working in” them, Who would “comfort and strengthen their hearts” in every needful way and would reward them with “rest” from their afflictions in due time, Whose care for His beloved was not limited by death, for He was pledged at Christ’s coming to restore those whom death had snatched away (1 Ephesians 1:4 ; Ephesians 2:12 , Ephesians 2:13 ; Ephesians 4:3 , Ephesians 4:7 , Ephesians 4:8 , Ephesians 4:14 ; Ephesians 5:18 ; Ephesians 2:0 Ephesians 1:5 , Ephesians 1:7 , Ephesians 1:11 ; Ephesians 2:13 , Ephesians 2:16 , Ephesians 2:17 ). Such a God it must be their one aim to love and to please; St Paul’s one desire for them is that they may “walk worthily” of Him (1 Ephesians 2:12 ; Ephesians 4:1 ; Ephesians 2:0 Ephesians 3:5 ). The good news the Apostle had brought he speaks of repeatedly as “the gospel of God ,” while it is “the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Ephesians 1:8 ), since He is its great subject and centre: comp. Romans 1:1 , Romans 1:3 , “the gospel of God concerning His Son.”
It is important to note the prominence of God in these Epistles, and the manifold ways in which the Divine character and relationship to believing men had been set forth to the Thessalonian Church. For such teaching would be necessary, and helpful in the highest degree, to men who had just emerged from heathen darkness and superstition; and these letters afford the best example left to us of St Paul’s earliest instructions to Gentile converts. The next report we have of his preaching to the heathen comes from Athens (Acts 17:22-31 ), where his discourse bore principally on two subjects the nature of the true God , and the coming of Jesus Christ to judge the world .
(4) So we come to that which was the most conspicuous and impressive topic of the Thessalonian gospel, so far as we can gather it from the echoes audible in the Epistles, viz. the coming of the Lord Jesus in His heavenly kingdom . These letters compel us to remember, what we are apt to forget, that the second advent of Christ is an important part of the Christian gospel, the good tidings that God has sent to the world concerning His Son. In 1 Ephesians 1:9 , Ephesians 1:10 the religion of Thessalonian believers is summed up in these two things: “serving a God living and true, and waiting for His Son from the heavens.” It was in the light of Christ’s second coming that they had learned to look for that “kingdom and glory of God” to which they were “called,” and “for which” they were now “suffering” (1 Ephesians 2:12 ; Ephesians 2:0 Ephesians 1:5 , Ephesians 1:10-12 ). “The coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints” was an object of intense desire and fervent anticipation to the Apostle himself, and he had impressed the same feelings on his disciples at Thessalonica to an uncommon degree. His appeals and warnings thoughout these Epistles rest on the “hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” as their strongest support. It was, moreover, upon this subject that the misunderstandings arose which the Apostle is at so much pains to correct the first appearing in 1 Ephesians 4:13 , touching the share of departed Christians in the return of the Lord Jesus; and the second in 2 Ephesians 2:1 , Ephesians 2:2 , concerning the imminence of the event itself.
What may have been the train of thought and feeling in the Apostle’s mind that led him to dwell upon this theme with such especial emphasis at this particular period, we cannot tell. But there were two conditions belonging to his early ministry in Europe which naturally might suggest this line of preaching. In the first place, the Christian doctrine of final judgement was one well calculated to rouse the Greek people from Its levity and moral indifference; and it had impressive analogies in their own primitive religion. It was for this practical purpose that St Paul advanced the doctrine at Athens: “Having overlooked the times of ignorance, God 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” (Acts 17:30 , Acts 17:31 ). To the busy traders of Corinth and Thessalonica, just as amongst the philosophers and dilettanti of Athens, the Apostle made the same severe and alarming proclamation. The message of judgement was an essential part of St Paul’s good tidings. “God shall judge the secrets of men, according to my gospel , through Jesus Christ” (Romans 2:16 ). But the declaration of Christ’s coming in judgement involves the whole doctrine of the Second Advent. On this matter St Paul tells us he had abundantly enlarged in the Thessalonian Church (1 Ephesians 5:2 ; Ephesians 2:0 Ephesians 2:6 ).
In the second place it should be observed, that the Apostle, in entering Europe by 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 European aspect and character; the splendid military road by which the missionaries travelled, and along which troops of soldiers, officers of state with their brilliant 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 could not but be sensitive. He was himself, it must be remembered, a citizen of Rome and by no means indifferent to his rights in this capacity; and he held a high estimate of the prerogatives and functions of the civil power (Romans 13:1-7 ).
But what he saw of the great kingdom of this world prompted in his mind larger thoughts of that mightier and Diviner kingdom, whose herald and ambassador he was. He could not fail to discern under the majestic sway of Rome signs of moral degeneracy and seeds of ruin. He remembered well that it was by the sentence of Pontius Pilate (1 Timothy 6:13 ) that his Master was crucified; and in his own outrageous treatment by the Roman officials at Philippi and the sufferings of the Christian flock at Thessalonica he may well have seen tokens of the inevitable conflict between the tyranny of secular rule and the authority of Christ. If such thoughts as these coloured the speech of Paul and Silas at Thessalonica, we can understand the charge made against them in this city: “These all do contrary to the decrees of Cæsar, saying that there is another king, even Jesus” (Acts 17:7 ). It was in principle the charge alleged against Jesus Himself before Pilate, compelling the Roman governor to pronounce his fatal sentence: “If thou let this man go, thou art not Cæsar’s friend : whosoever maketh himself a king, speaketh against Cæsar .” So the Jews “cried out” (Job 19:12 ); and at the bottom, the accusation was true; the sharp-sighted enmity of the Jews rightly discerned that the rule of Jesus was fatal to Cæsarism. 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 judge and king; if they taught that “the fashion of this world passeth away” (1 Corinthians 7:31 ), and that an atheistic world-wide despotism would one day culminate in a huge disaster, to be “consumed by the breath of the Lord and the brightness of His coming” (2 Ephesians 2:3-11 ), there were grounds plausible enough for accusing them of treasonable doctrine, even though no express political offence had been committed. That such a judgement was impending was “good news” indeed; but it was of deadly import to the imperial tyranny of Caligulas and Neros, and to the social and political fabric of the existing pagan world of which the deified Cæsars were the top-stone. In this consequence lies the most significant and distinctive, though not the most obvious, feature of the gospel of Thessalonica.
It may be further added, that the hope of Christ’s return in glory was the consolation best suited to sustain the Church, as it sustained the Apostle himself, in the great fight of affliction through which they were passing.
(5) The moral issues of the Gospel inculcated by St Paul at Thessalonica, the new duties and affections belonging to the new life of believers in Christ, are touched upon at many different points; but 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 the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (1 Ephesians 4:1-8 ); and the claims of brotherly love , with the good order, the peace, and mutual helpfulness that flow from it (1 Ephesians 4:9 , Ephesians 4:10 ; Ephesians 5:12-15 ; Ephesians 2:0 Ephesians 3:14 , Ephesians 3:15 ). What is singular In these Epistles is the repeated and strong injunctions they contain on the subject of diligence in labour and attention to the ordinary duties of life (1 Ephesians 4:10-12 ; Ephesians 2:0 Ephesians 3:6-15 ).
A striking moral feature of the gospel proclaimed at Thessalonica is manifest in the conduct of the missionaries of Christ themselves, their incessant labour, their unbounded self-denial, the purity and devoutness of their spirit, and their fearless courage (1 Ephesians 1:6 , Ephesians 1:7 ; Ephesians 2:1-12 ; Ephesians 2:0 Ephesians 3:8 , Ephesians 3:9 ).
The Occasion of the Two Epistles
I. St Paul had been absent no long time from Thessalonica the “season of an hour” (1 Ephesians 2:17 ). He had been at Athens in the interval (1 Ephesians 3:1 ), and is now engaged at Corinth (Acts 18:1 , Acts 18:5 ). He had left Thessalonica very unwillingly (1 Ephesians 2:17 ; Acts 17:10 : “The disciples sent away Paul and Silas”), promising and fully expecting to come back quickly. He had set his heart on returning to his persecuted flock, and had twice attempted to do so, but insuperable and malicious hindrances came in his way (1 Ephesians 2:17 , Ephesians 2:18 : “Satan hindered us”). After the failure of his second attempt, when the Apostle had now arrived at Athens and his anxiety for the Thessalonians was unendurable, he resolved to send Timothy in his place, the only companion now left to him (ch. 3:1, 2), in order to comfort and strengthen this infant Church. From Acts 17:14 , Acts 17:15 we learn that Silas and Timothy had in the first instance both stayed behind at Berœa, with instructions to follow their chief as soon as they found it possible. This direction Timothy was able speedily to obey; and on his return St Paul despatched him forthwith from Athens to Thessalonica (see notes on 1 Ephesians 3:1 , Ephesians 3:2 ). Timothy had now once more rejoined the Apostle (Silas too, at or about the same time, and coming from the same quarter), who had meanwhile removed from Athens to Corinth.
Timothy brought a report which greatly relieved and gladdened the heart of the much-tried Apostle. It was a very “gospel” to him. The Thessalonians were “standing fast in the Lord.” The expectations he had formed of them were in no way disappointed. Their faith had endured without flinching the fiery test of persecution. Their love to each other and to their absent father in Christ was devoted and sincere. They were mindful of the Apostle’s teaching, maintaining a consistent walk and by their faithfulness and zeal commending the gospel with powerful effect throughout Macedonia and Achaia, “What fitting thanks,” St Paul asks, “can we render to God for al the joy with which we rejoice over you before our God?” (1 Ephesians 3:6-10 ; Ephesians 1:2-8 ; Ephesians 4:1 , Ephesians 4:9 , Ephesians 4:10 ; Ephesians 5:11 ). St Paul’s Epistles contain nowhere a more earnest or unqualified commendation than that which he bestows on the fidelity of the Thessalonian Church.
What the Apostle hears from his assistant increases his longing to see them again; for this he is “praying night and day with intense desire” (ch. 3:10). Indeed his primary object in writing the First Epistle is to express his great desire to revisit Thessalonica (ch. 2:17; 3:11). Associated with this wish there are two other purposes that actuate his mind. On the one hand, he finds it necessary to explain his continued absence , and in doing so to justify himself from aspersions thrown upon him by his opponents. This self-defence is the first subject on which he enters, in ch. 2:1 12. We gather from it that there were certain enemies of the Christian cause in Thessalonica (Jewish enemies, as the denunciation of vv. 14 16, together with the general probabilities of the situation, strongly suggests), who had taken advantage of the absence of the missionaries to slander them 1 1 It is necessary to observe that the opponents St Paul has in view in 1 Ep. 2 (see esp. vv. 15, 16) are unconverted Jews , altogether hostile to the gospel Paul preached. The Jews of Thessalonica drove him from this city, and following him to Berœa attacked him there; and their compatriots at Corinth imitated their example, though happily not with the same success (Acts 17:5, 13; 18:12 17). Of the Jewish Christians opposed to Paul and his Gentile mission, the “false brethren” who afterwards “troubled” him at Corinth and in Galatia, we find in these Epistles no trace whatever. . They had insinuated doubts of their courage (ch. 2:2), of their disinterestedness and honesty ( vv. 3, 6, 9), and of their real affection for their Thessalonian converts ( vv. 7, 8, 11, 12). They had said: “These so-called ‘Apostles of Christ’ are self-seeking adventurers. Depend upon it, their real object is to make themselves a reputation and to fill their own purse at your expense. They have beguiled you by their flatteries and pretence of sanctity into accepting their new-fangled faith; and then, as soon as trouble arises and their mischievous doctrines bring them into danger, they creep away like cowards, leaving you to bear the brunt of persecution. 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 antagonists would be sure to make. And 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 that continued persecution was likely to have upon a young and unseasoned Church, one cannot wonder at the danger there was lest confidence in the absent missionaries should be undermined by these insidious attacks. On the whole, that confidence had not been shaken. “You have good remembrance of us at all times,” (ch. 3:6); so Timothy had assured St Paul. But the Apostles show themselves, in ch. 2:1 12, most anxious to increase and strengthen this good remembrance.
On the other hand, and looking onward to the future, St Paul writes in order to carry forward the instruction of his converts in Christian doctrine and life, “to perfect what is lacking in your faith” (ch. 3:10). With his entrance into Europe the Apostle’s mission has entered upon a new stage. He is no longer able quickly to revisit his Churches, which are now numerous and widely separated, and to exercise a direct pastoral oversight amongst them. The defect of his presence he must supply by messenger and letter. When he describes himself as “longing to see you and to complete the deficiencies of your faith,” in explaining this earliest of his apostolic letters, we see how the necessity of such Epistles arose and to what conditions we owe their existence.
The “deficiencies” which St Paul has to correct or supplement, are chiefly of a practical nature. They concern (1) on the moral side, the virtue of chastity , sadly wanting 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 diligent labour was closely associated (ch. 4:1 12). (2) On the doctrinal side, a painful misunderstanding had arisen touching the relation of “them that sleep” to Christ on His return , which Timothy was not able altogether to remove; and there was in regard to this event generally a restlessness of mind and over-curiosity unfavourable to sober and steadfast Christian life (ch. 4:13 5:11). (3) With this we may connect symptoms of indiscipline in one party, and of contempt for extraordinary spiritual manifestations in another, which the closing verses of the Epistle indicate (ch. 5:12 22).
Respecting these needs of the Church, as well as concerning its loyalty and earnestness of faith, Timothy, doubtless, had given the Apostle a full report.
II. After writing the First Epistle St Paul received further tidings from Thessalonica, which moved him to write a Second . The situation of the Church remained, for the most part, the same, but accentuated in its leading features. We gather from the opening Act of Thanksgiving (ch. 1) that the storm of persecution was still more violent and the fidelity of the Church even more conspicuous than when the Apostle wrote a few months before. “Your faith grows exceedingly, and your love multiplies. We make our boast in you amongst the Churches of God, because of your faith and endurance in persecution” (ch. 1:3, 4). The Apostle says nothing further, however, of his intention to return; his hands were by this time tied fast at Corinth (Acts 18:5-18 ): he commends them to “the Lord, Who will stablish them and keep them from the Evil One” (ch. 3:3 5). Nor does he enter on any further defence of his conduct toward the Thessalonians. That was now unnecessary.
There are two things which he is wishful to say. First and chiefly, about the Second Advent “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him” (ch. 2:1). A report was circulated, claiming prophetic origin, and alleged to have St Paul’s authentication, to the effect that “the day of the Lord had arrived” and He must be looked for immediately (ver. 2). This the Apostle declares to be a deception (ver. 3). And he gives reasons, partly derived from his original teaching, why so speedy a consummation was impossible. This gives occasion to his memorable prediction of the advent of “the Man of Sin” (or “Lawlessness”), whose appearance and exaltation to supreme power will be, he announces, the signal for Christ’s return in glory ( vv. 3 12). This prophecy is the one great difficulty which meets the student of these Epistles. It is amongst the most mysterious passages in the Bible. See the Appendix .
The other object the Apostle has in writing 2 Thessalonians is to reprove the disorderly fraction of the Church (ch. 3:6 15). The First Epistle intimated the existence of a tendency to idleness and consequent insubordination (ch. 4:11, 12; 5:12 14), to which he there alluded in a few words of guarded and kindly censure. His gentle reproof however failed to check the evil, which had now assumed an aggravated and persistent form and endangered the Church’s peace. It was connected with the prevalent excitement on the subject of Christ’s advent. This expectation furnished an excuse and incentive to the neglect of ordinary labour. The Apostle now takes the offenders severely to task, and directs their brethren to refuse support from the funds of the Church to such as persisted in idleness, and to avoid their company.
That this letter is the second of the two, and not the first (as Grotius, Ewald, F. C. Baur, and some other critics have conjectured), is evident from the course of affairs and the internal relationship of the Epistles, as we have just examined them. 2 Thessalonians bears on its face the character of a sequel and supplement to 1 Thessalonians. It deals more fully and urgently with two important points raised in the former letter, as they present themselves in their further development. The disturbing influences whose presence is only Indicated in 1 Thessalonians, have now reached their crisis. And the Apostle’s thanksgiving (ch. 1:3 12) implies an advance both in the severity of persecution, and in the growth and testing of Thessalonian faith; for which faith he gives thanks in terms even stronger than before. The personal recollections and explanations, so interesting a feature of the other Epistle, are eminently suited to the Apostle’s first communication of the kind with this beloved Church. The absence of such references in the shorter Epistle marks it as virtually an appendix to the other, following it after a brief interval. The expression of ch. 2:2, “neither through word, nor through letter as on our authority,” is most naturally explained as alluding to some misquotation or misunderstanding of the language of 1 Thessalonians on the subject in question.
The two Epistles were written, as we have seen, from Corinth ; not from Athens, as it is stated in the concluding note, or “subscription” attached to the Epistles in the mss followed by the Authorised English version. They were both composed during the Apostle’s residence of eighteen months in Corinth (Acts 18:11 ), extending from Autumn 53 to Spring 55 a.d. (possibly, 52 54). They belong therefore, as nearly as we can judge, to the winter of 53 54 a.d., the last year of the Emperor Claudius; being 23 years after our Lord’s Ascension, two years after the Council at Jerusalem, four years before the Epistle to the Romans, thirteen years, probably, before the death of St Paul and the outbreak of the Jewish War, and seventeen years before the Fall of Jerusalem.
The Genuineness of the Two Epistles
That these two letters were written by the author whose name they bear, has never been doubted by anyone until the present century. No writings of the N. T. are more strongly and unanimously supported by the testimony of the Early Church. The German writer Christ. Schmidt first raised suspicions against 2 Thessalonians in the year 1801, and Schrader against 1 Thessalonians in 1836. The objections of these scholars were further developed by Ferdinand C. Baur, the founder of what is called the Tendency School of N. T. Criticism, who gave them currency in his influential work on “Paul the Apostle of Jesus Christ” (1845: Eng. Trans., 1873). Baur supposed the Epistles to have been written by some disciple of Paul, with the Apocalypse of John in his hand, who wished to excite renewed interest amongst Pauline Christians in the Second Advent. He dates them therefore in the reign of Vespasian, subsequently to the Fall of Jerusalem (70 a.d.).
I. The authenticity of the First Epistle has been amply vindicated, and is now acknowledged even by the leading sceptical critics of the school of Baur, such as Holtzmann and Pfleiderer. If any one expressed doubts on the subject, it would be sufficient to point (1) to the picture the Apostle gives of himself and his relations to this Church in chaps. 1 3. It is an exquisite piece of self-portraiture, bearing all the marks of circumstantial truth and genuine feeling, harmonizing with what we learn of St Paul from other sources, and free from anything that could make us suspect imitation by another hand. One feels the beat and throb of Paul’s heart in every line of these chapters. Nemo potest Paulinum pectus effingere (Erasmus).
(2) The same air of reality belongs to the aspect of the Thessalonian Church , as it is delineated in these letters. It exhibits the freshness, the fervour and impulsive energy of a newborn faith, with something 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 of 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 Asiatic Churches. These characteristics agree with what we know of the Macedonian temperament. At the same time, there was at Thessalonica a tendency to morbid excitement and to an unpractical and over-heated enthusiasm, that forms a peculiar feature in the portrait the Epistles furnish of this Christian Society.
(3) The attitude of St Paul toward the parousia is such as no disciple or imitator, writing in his name, could possibly have attributed to him after the Apostle’s death. He is made to write as though Christ were expected to come within his own lifetime : “we the living, those who survive till the coming of the Lord,” 1 Ephesians 4:15 , Ephesians 4:17 . These words, taken in their plain sense, leave it an open question whether the Lord Jesus would not return while the writer and his readers yet lived. That a later author, wishing to use the Apostle’s authority for his own purposes, should have put such words into his master’s lips is inconceivable. For then St Paul had died, and Christ had not returned .
(4) Observe, too, the manner in which the writer speaks in the same passage of “those falling asleep” (present tense: see note ad loc. ), in such a way as to show that the question concerning the fate of believers dying before the Lord’s return was a new one, that had arisen in the Thessalonian Church for the first time. If this be 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 large community before death has made its mark.
II. The suspicions cherished against the Second Epistle have been more persistent; but they are equally ill-founded. Baur rightly maintained that the two letters are from the same source, and that both must be regarded as spurious, or both authentic . The Second is closely bound to the First, alike in language and in matter; and the two chief and distinctive passages of the former (ch. 2:1 12; 3:6 15) are based on the corresponding paragraphs of the latter. If we ascribe the Second Epistle to an imitator of the Apostle, we must suppose that another writer, at least 20 years later 1 1 Recent hostile critics, such as Hilgenfeld and Pfleiderer, would say, 60 years later , “in the closing years of Trajan”! , taking up 1 Thessalonians and adding this sequel to it, has reproduced the Apostle’s manner to perfection, and has carried his thoughts and his line of exhortation forward precisely where he left them off; and that in doing so he has escaped detection by skilfully avoiding every kind of reference to intervening events and to the circumstances of his own time. We have no reason to believe that any post-Apostolic writer had either the skill or cunning to execute such a feat. And no adequate motive for the forgery is adduced.
It is alleged that the purpose of the supposed inventor was to introduce into the Pauline theology Apocalyptic ideas, similar to those found in the Revelation of St John, and to disseminate them amongst Gentile Christians. There is manifestly a relation between the Johannine and the Pauline Apocalypse; but as we shall endeavour to show ( Appendix on “The Man of Lawlessness”), it is St John who has derived from St Paul, not vice versa . The brief and enigmatic sketch of this Book is developed and filled out in larger proportions and with glowing dramatic colours by the Seer of Patmos. Moreover, it is impossible to point to any time subsequent to the year 70, at which there existed an expectation of the immediate coming of Christ so intense and overpowering as is indicated in 2 Ephesians 2:2 , and which needed to be qualified and checked in the manner of this Epistle. John’s Apocalypse, on the contrary, is designed to quicken a flagging faith in the parousia.
Add to this, amongst the details of St Paul’s Apocalyptic sketch, the expression of ver. 1, “our gathering together unto Him,” which accords with 1 Ephesians 4:13-18 , and indicates a time when in the first freshness of Christian hope it was natural to think that the Lord would return to find the body of His people still living on the earth; “the temple of God,” ver. 4, pointing to the Jewish Temple yet standing (see note ad loc. ); and the description of “the Adversary” as “exalting himself against every one called God,” “seating himself in the temple of God, showing off himself as God,” which is quite intelligible if written when the blasphemous freaks of the Emperor Caligula and his attempt to set up his statue in the Temple at Jerusalem (40 a.d.) were still vividly remembered. At a later period these incidents were effaced by other and yet more portentous developments of “the mystery of lawlessness,” such as have left their trace on the pages of the Book of Revelation, but are not indicated here.
There is said to be, after all, a contradiction between 1 Ephesians 4:13-5:10 and 2 Ephesians 2:1-12 , the First Epistle representing the parousia as near and sudden , the second as more distant and known by premonitory signs . But the latter modifies and corrects an erroneous inference drawn from the former statement. The premonitory sign of the coming of Antichrist shews that the end, though it might be near, is not immediate . On the other hand, no date is given for the advent of Antichrist in 2 Ephesians 2:0 ; and the “times and seasons” still remain uncertain, as in 1 Thessalonians. The same contrast is found in Christ’s own predictions e.g. between Matthew 24:33 ( a preparatory sign ) and ver. 36 ( uncertainty of date ).
Outside ch. 2:1 12 there is nothing to lend a colour to the theory of a later origin for the Second Epistle. The directions given respecting the treatment of the “brother walking disorderly” belong to quite the incipient stage of Church government and discipline. To suppose this passage written in the second century, or even in the last quarter of the first, is to attribute to the author an extraordinary power of ignoring the conditions of his own time, and a power exercised in a quite gratuitous fashion. But these directions harmonise well enough with those addressed to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 5:0 ) respecting the extreme case of disorder occurring in that Church.
The Style and Character of the Two Epistles
In Style the two Epistles are as nearly as possible Identical. The characteristic features of St Paul’s dialect and manner as a writer are very apparent; but they have not yet taken the bold and developed form which they present in the Epistles of the second group (Romans, Corinthians, Galatians). In wealth of language, in force of intellect and spiritual passion, these letters do not reach the height of some of the later Epistles. Nor should we expect them to do so. The Apostle’s style is the most natural and unstudied in the world. It is, as M. Renan says, “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 in 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 his keen and dexterous logic large and massive generalisation, bold inference, vivid illustration, swift retort, and an eagerness that leaps to its conclusion over intervening steps of argument indicated only by a 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, as it has been aptly said, “St Paul’s normal style,” the way in which he would commonly write and talk to his friends.
In their general character, in simplicity and ease of manner, in the rarity of those involved periods and abrupt transitions which distinguish the polemical Epistles, these letters resemble that to the Philippians. But it is remarkable that the Epistle to the Philippians contains twice as many hapax legomena to the chapter (i.e. words used nowhere else in the N. T.), as do our Epistles 1 1 By counting verses instead of chapters, we find this statement somewhat modified. Philippians contains not quite two hapax legomena in every five verses; 1 and 2 Thess. exactly one in every four. For the number of hap. leg. see Grimm-Thayer’s N. T. Lexicon , Appendix iv. . For Philippians was written nearly ten years later; and it will be found that as time went on the Apostle’s vocabulary constantly enlarged, and the habit of using new and singular words grew upon him.
Ch. 1:2 5; 2:14 16 in the First Epistle; ch. 1:6 10; 2:8 10 in the Second, 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 habit also gained upon the writer. In 1 Ephesians 1:8 ; Ephesians 2:11 ; Ephesians 4:4 , Ephesians 4:14 ; Ephesians 2:0 Ephesians 1:9 ; Ephesians 2:7 ; Ephesians 3:6 we find instances of ellipsis and anacoluthon of those altered and broken sentences, and dropped words left to the reader’s understanding, to which the student of St Paul is accustomed. 1 Ephesians 2:14 , Ephesians 2:15 (the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus, &c.); 5:8, 9 ( salvation for God did not appoint us to wrath, &c.); 2 Ephesians 1:10 (that believed for our testimony was believed) illustrate St Paul’s curious fashion of “going off upon a word,” where some word suddenly suggests an idea that draws him away from the current of the sentence, which he perhaps resumes in an altered form. In 1 Ephesians 2:4 , Ephesians 2:19-20 ; Ephesians 3:6-7 ; Ephesians 4:2 and 6; 5:4 5; 2 Ephesians 2:9 and 11, 10 and 12 we see how expressions of the Apostle are apt to return upon and repeat themselves in a changed guise. 1 Ephesians 3:5 ; Ephesians 5:23 ; Ephesians 2:0 Ephesians 3:2-3 ; Ephesians 3:11 (read in the Greek) exemplify the fondness, shared by St Paul with many great writers, for paronomasia , that is for playing on the sound of the words he uses.
There is not a single quotation from the O. T . in these Epistles. St Paul is addressing Gentile converts, and in such a way that Scriptural proof and illustration are not required. But there are a number of evident allusions in that direction, showing how the writer’s mind was coloured by the language of the Old Testament. Compare
1 Ephesians 2:4 with Psalms 17:3 , &c.;
2:16 with Genesis 15:16 ;
4:5 with Psalms 79:6 ;
5:8 with Isaiah 59:17 ;
2 Ephesians 1:8 with Isaiah 66:15 ;
1:9, 10 with Isaiah 2:10 , Isaiah 2:11 , Isaiah 2:17 , Isaiah 2:19-21 ;
2:4 with Daniel 11:36 ;
2:8 with Isaiah 11:4 ;
2:13 (“beloved by the Lord”) with Deuteronomy 33:12 .
More remarkable, and quite unusual in St Paul, are the repeated echoes of the words of Jesus that occur in the passages relating to the Judgement and Second Coming. Compare
1 Ephesians 2:15 , Ephesians 2:16 with Matthew 23:29-39 , Luke 11:45-52 , Luke 11:13 :33, Luke 11:34 ;
4:16, 17 with Matthew 24:30 , Matthew 24:31 ;
5:1 6 with Matthew 24:36-44 , Luke 12:38-40 , Luke 12:46 ;
2 Ephesians 2:2 with Matthew 24:6 .
In their character these oldest extant Epistles of the Apostle Paul can now be easily described. They are the letters of a missionary , written to an infant Church but very recently brought from heathen darkness into the marvellous light of the Gospel. They lie nearer, therefore, to the missionary preaching of the Apostle of the Gentiles, as we find it, for instance, in Acts 14:15-17 ; Acts 17:22-31 , than do any of the later Epistles. This accounts for their simplicity, for the absence In them of controversy, and the elementary nature of their doctrine. 1 1 But compare what is said of the character of the Macedonians in Chapter IV. above.
They are addressed to a Macedonian Church, and they exhibit in common with the Epistle to the (Macedonian) Philippians a peculiar warmth of feeling and mutual confidence between writer and readers. They are singularly affectionate letters . From 2 Corinthians 8:1 , 2 Corinthians 8:2 ; 2 Corinthians 11:9 we gather that the generosity which endeared the Philippians to St Paul (Philippians 4:14-17 ) distinguished the Macedonian Churches generally. The Apostle can scarcely find words tender enough or images sufficiently vivid to express his regard for the Thessalonians (1 Ephesians 2:7 , Ephesians 2:11 , Ephesians 2:17 , Ephesians 2:19 , Ephesians 2:20 ; Ephesians 3:9 ). He feels his life bound up with them (ch. 3:8). He boasts of them everywhere (2 Ephesians 1:4 ; 2 Corinthians 8:1 , 2 Corinthians 8:2 ). If he exhorts them, his warnings are mingled with commendations, lest they should think he has some fault to find (1 Ephesians 4:1 , Ephesians 4:9 , Ephesians 4:10 ; Ephesians 5:11 ; Ephesians 2:0 Ephesians 3:4 ). Again and again he repeats, more than in any other letters, “You yourselves know,” “Remember ye not?” and the like, so sure he is that they have understood and bear in mind his teaching, and are altogether one with him. In like fashion, writing to the Philippians (ch. 1:5), the Apostle gives thanks to God “for your fellowship in the gospel, from the first day until now.”
Further, these two are especially cheering and consolatory letters . The Apostle sent Timothy to “comfort” the Thessalonians “concerning their faith” (1 Ephesians 3:2 ), and in writing he pursues the same object. Persecution was the lot of this Church from the beginning (1 Ephesians 3:4 ; Acts 17:5-9 ), as it continued to be long afterwards (2 Corinthians 8:2 ; comp. what was written to Philippi ten years later, Philippians 1:28 , Philippians 1:29 ). So the Apostle bends all his efforts to encourage his distressed and suffering 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, till in comparison they seem light indeed. He shows them and to a generous Christian heart there is no greater satisfaction how much their faithful endurance is furthering the cause of Christ and of truth (1 Ephesians 1:6-8 ; Ephesians 2:0 Ephesians 1:3 , Ephesians 1:4 ), and how it comforts and encourages himself and his fellow-labourers (1 Ephesians 3:5-7 ).
Lastly, these are eschatological Epistles : that is, in the language of theology, they set forth “the Last Things” in Christian doctrine, the second coming of Christ, the raising of the dead and transformation of the living saints, and the Judgement of the world; they announce the advent of Antichrist as the forerunner and Satanic counterpart of the returning Christ (2 Ephesians 2:1-12 ). The latter passage is called the Pauline Apocalypse; since it holds in St Paul’s Epistles, in regard to its teaching and import, the place of the Book of Revelation in the writings of St John. We have suggested, in Chapter III. of the Introduction, some circumstances that may have led St Paul to dwell at this time especially upon this subject. The persecutions under which the Thessalonians laboured served to incline their thoughts in the same direction, toward the heavenly kingdom that they hoped would soon arrive to put an end to the miseries of “this present evil world.”
By their eschatological views and teachings these letters are linked to ch. 15 of 1 Corinthians, which was probably the next of St Paul’s Epistles in order of time to these. Afterwards the subject of the parousia retreats into the shade in the Apostle’s writings. For this two causes suggest themselves. Between the writing of 1 and 2 Corinthians St Paul suffered from a severe sickness (2 Corinthians 1:8-10 ; 2 Corinthians 4:7-5:8 ), which brought him to the gates of death, and profoundly affected his spiritual experience: from this time he anticipated that death would end his earthly career (Philippians 1:20 , Philippians 1:21 ; Acts 20:24 ; 2 Timothy 4:6-8 , 2 Timothy 4:18 ). And again, the disturbing effect of the thought of the Parousia in the Thessalonian Church and the danger of a morbid pre-occupation of mind with this idea such as he had seen there, may have led him to make the subject less prominent in his later teaching. In St Paul’s last letters, however, written at the close of life 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 had he reconciled himself to the fact that he must first indeed be “absent from the body” in order to be “present with the Lord.” Yet still the coming of the Lord Jesus was the goal of his labours and longings. It was in his eyes the summit of all Christian hope. And these two fervent Epistles, with their bright horizon of promise crossed by lurid thunder-clouds, breathe throughout the constant desire of the Church with which the Book of Scripture closes,
AMEN. COME, LORD JESUS!
Analysis and Digest of the Epistles
I. In the First Epistle there are two clearly marked sections. Ch. 1 3 are personal ; Ch. 4 and 5, moral and doctrinal .
(1) The first and chief part of the letter is an outpouring of the Apostle’s heart to his readers. He 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 his readers of their work and life at Thessalonica, and informing them of his repeated attempts to return to them, of the circumstances under which he had sent Timothy in his place, and the inexpressible delight given to him by Timothy’s good report of their state and of their love for the absent Apostles.
(2) In v. 1 of Ch. 4 the writer begins to preach, and 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 is introduced the great passage relating to the Second Coming (Ch. 4:13 5:11), explaining to the Thessalonians what they should believe on this vital matter of faith, to them so profoundly interesting. The misunderstandings and the agitation existing in this Church affected its “walk;” they were injurious to the Church’s peace and disturbing to its soberness and joy of faith. Hence the introduction of the doctrinal question at this stage and in this form.
II. The Second Epistle contains very little personal matter. After the Thanksgiving, which occupies the first chapter, St Paul proceeds at once to the questions of doctrine and discipline which called for this further deliverance from him. Ch. 2 and 3 of 2 Ep. therefore correspond to Ch. 4 and 5 of 1 Ep. But the scope of St Paul’s exhortations is here more limited. He deals (1) in Ch. 2:1 12, with the false alarm about the parousia , which was just now producing a demoralising excitement; (2) with the case of certain idlers and busybodies , whose obstinate indiscipline compels him to take stern measures for their correction (Ch. 3:6 14). The intervening part of the Epistle (Ch. 2:13 3:5) is taken up with thanksgiving, prayer, and exhortation of a general character.
The following is the scheme of exposition pursued in the Notes upon these two Epistles:
1 Epistle. Address and Salutation. Ch. 1:1.
§ 1. The Thanksgiving and the Reasons for it Ch. 1:2 10.
§ 2. The Apostle’s Conduct at Thessalonica. Ch. 2:1 12.
§ 3. (Parenthetical) Jewish Persecutors of the Church. Ch. 2:13 16.
§ 4. St Paul’s Present Relations to the Thessalonians. Ch. 2:17 3:13.
§ 5. A Lesson in Christian Morals. Ch. 4:1 12.
§ 6. The Coming of the Lord Jesus. Ch. 4:13 5:11.
§ 7. Rules for the Sanctified Life. Ch. 5:12 24.
Conclusion. Ch. 5:25 28.
2 Epist. § 1. Salutation and Thanksgiving. Ch. 1:1 4.
§ 2. The Approaching Retribution. Ch. 1:5 12.
§ 3. The Revelation of the Lawless One. Ch. 2:1 12.
§ 4. Words of Comfort and Prayer. Ch. 2:13 3:5.
§ 5. Discipline for the Disorderly. Ch. 3:6 15.
Conclusion. Ch. 3:16 18.
It may be convenient to give in conclusion a digest of the Epistles, in the shape of a running paraphrase:
The First Epistle to the Thessalonians
Ch. 1. Paul and his colleagues wish the Thessalonian Church “Grace and Peace.” ( v. 2 ) They constantly remember them in their prayers, and thank God for the rich fruit which their faith and love and hope in Christ are bearing, ( v. 4 ) They are sure that God in His love has chosen them for His own. ( v. 5 ) They had proof of this in the confidence, wrought by the Holy Spirit, with which they at first addressed them and in the powerful effect which the gospel had upon them. With joyful courage these young disciples encountered persecution, following the path marked out by the Apostles and their Lord. ( v. 7 ) They were indeed a pattern to their fellow-believers; and the story of their conversion from idolatry to the service of the true God and hope in Christ had spread even beyond Macedonia and Achaia, and bore signal witness to the truth and power, of the Divine message.
Ch. 2. “I need scarcely remind you,” he continues, “of the way in which our ministry amongst you began. You know what we suffered at Philippi, and you remember the boldness with which we proclaimed God’s message to you. ( v. 3 ) There was no delusion or trickery, no impure motive in our work. We felt that we had a solemn trust committed to us by God, and we spoke and acted accordingly, ( v. 5 ) You know that we never flattered you; and God knows we sought no gain or glory for ourselves. We might, in our apostolic quality, have charged yon with our maintenance; ( v. 7 ) but rather we treated yon like a mother nursing her children, ready to give you, with the gospel, our very lives. So much had we learnt to love you! ( v. 9 ) We toiled night and day to save you expense, while we preached to you the gospel. To yourselves we can appeal whether our conduct towards you did not in every way commend our message. ( v. 11 ) As our children, with fatherly counsel and encouragement we strove to make you worthy of your calling and your hopes.
( v. 13 ) “And, thank God, our labour was not in vain. It was God’s word, not man’s, you received in our message; and in you it has its due effect. You are following in the steps of the Judean Churches and sharing their persecutions. Your fellow-countrymen treat you as they were treated by their fellow-Jews the Jews , ( v. 15 ) murderers of the Lord Jesus as they were of the prophets! Enemies of mankind, offensive to God, they chase us from city to city and would prevent our preaching to the Gentiles. But His wrath is upon them, and their doom is near!
( v. 17 ) “As for ourselves, compelled to leave you for a while (our hearts indeed still with you), we counted on coming back again to see you. We made determined efforts, more than once, to do this; but Satan stood in the way. ( v. 19 ) For you verily will be our glory and crown at Christ’s coming, as you are already! Ch. 3. And so, on our second failure, finding ourselves at Athens, we thought it best to send Timothy, just then our only companion. We were fearful lest you should have been overpowered by affliction; and we sent him to cheer you and sustain your faith. We had told you, as you will remember, what conflicts you might expect; and so the event proved.
( v. 6 ) “But now Timothy has returned; and how shall I relate the joy his tidings give me! how thank God sufficiently for His grace manifest in you! To hear of your steadfast faith and abounding love, of your affection for us and great desire to see us all this is an unspeakable comfort; it is new life to me. ( v. 11 ) May God our Father and Christ our Lord grant me soon the delight of seeing you, and helping you onward in your faith! May the Lord quicken yet more your love, as ours is kindled towards you! May He give you confidence of heart, and the holiness which will fit you for His coming!
Ch. 4. “Before we close this letter, we have some requests to make, which we urge upon you in the name of the Lord Jesus. In general, that you follow the rules of life we gave you. You are doing this, we know; but there is room for progress, ( v. 3 ) In particular, be free from all taint of unchastity. Be masters of your bodily passions. In this lies great part of your sanctification. Lust, with its dishonour, is the mark of Gentile godlessness. ( v. 6 ) This sin brings wrong and injury on others, while it degrades the man himself. The Lord is the avenger of every offence against social purity. By such offence you set Him at defiance, and outrage His Holy Spirit given to you.
( v. 9 ) “As to brotherly love, God Himself is your teacher; and all your brethren in Macedonia benefit by your proficiency. Still, in this grace increase is always possible. We desire to see in you a quiet spirit, ( v. 12 ) and that honourable labour and independence be your ambition!
( v. 13 ) “Death has been busy amongst you. And your sorrow is deepened by a strange fear lest your sleeping friends should have lost their part in the hope of Christ’s return and their place in His heavenly kingdom. Be comforted. His resurrection from the dead is a pledge of theirs. God will restore them at His return. ( v. 15 ) They will have indeed the first and foremost share in His glorious advent. At His trumpet’s call they will rise from their sleep; ( v. 17 ) we who live on the earth will rejoin them; and together, in one body, we shall ascend to meet our returning Lord. With Him we and they shall then dwell for ever!
Ch. 5:1. “But when this will be, and what train of events will precede the Advent, remains a secret. We are told that the day of the Lord comes ‘as a thief in the night.’ ( v. 3 ) So it will prove for the wicked and unbelieving. Just when they are most secure like men asleep at night or drunken then ruin falls upon them! But you surely are not in the dark; ( v. 5 ) you live in the daylight, as sober, wakeful men. And when the end comes, it will not find you unprepared. But take heed that It be so. ( v. 8 ) Be ready, like soldiers on the watch, clad in the armour of steadfast faith and love, and a high Christian hope. Well may yon hope for salvation in the dread Day, knowing that God has chosen you for this, ( v. 10 ) and that Christ has died to the end that in life or death you may live evermore with Him. With such thoughts comfort and edify each other.
( v. 12 ) “But further, we must ask you to appreciate the labours of those who hold rule and office amongst you. Their work is difficult; give them your confidence and love. Avoid all contention, ( v. 14 ) Let each take his part in the work of brotherly admonition, of consolation, of sympathy and patient help in dealing with weak or troublesome members of the flock. Never must evil be retaliated; do nothing but good to others for your part.
( v. 16 ) “Let your life be filled with joy, prayer, thanksgiving: this is the Christian life; it is God’s will for you. Beware of quenching the influence of the Holy Spirit by disparagement of His prophetic gifts. Put everything to proof indeed; but hold fast what is good, while you shrink from every kind of evil. ( v. 23 ) Above all, may God Himself, Source and Giver of peace, accomplish your full sanctification. In the integrity of a consecrated body, soul, and spirit may you be preserved and found without blame at Christ’s coming. God has called you for this end; He is faithful: it shall be done!
( v. 25 ) “Have us remembered in your prayers.
“Exchange a holy kiss of salutation as from me.
“I solemnly require you to see that this letter is read to every brother in the Church.
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you!”
The Second Epistle
Ch. 1. In commencing his second letter, bearing also the names of “Silas and Timothy” with his own, the Apostle repeats his salutation of “Grace and Peace.” ( v. 3 ) He feels “bound to thank God” for the signal growth of the Thessalonians’ faith, and the affluence of their love; and especially for their courageous fidelity under violent and continued persecution. Over this, as he tells them, he boasts everywhere on their account, ( v. 5 ) In their steadfastness he sees a token of the rest and heavenly glory awaiting the sufferers, and an omen of fearful import for their enemies. “You and they,” he says, “are in the hands of a righteous God. And they will have to pay for all they are inflicting on you now, and for their refusal of the knowledge of God and His gospel, when Christ returns in triumph, ( v. 9 ) Eternal destruction will be their doom, into which the terror and majesty of His presence will drive them out; while His glory will shine forth in His saints in you who believed our testimony of Him. ( v. 11 ) And so we pray for you, that you may prove worthy of your calling, that all may be fulfilled in you that goodness can desire and faith effect; that so Christ may find in you His glory, you in Him! For this is the design of grace.”
Ch. 2. The Apostle has one principal and urgent purpose in writing now. It touches “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” in regard to which he desires to remove a dangerous and disturbing impression existing in Thessalonica, to the effect that “the day of the Lord was close at hand!” ( v. 2 ) How this rumour originated, it was hard to say, whether through supposed prophetic intimation, or the ordinary teaching of the Church, or from some misunderstanding or abuse of the Apostle’s written words. But its disastrous effect was manifest, and its falsity . “I gave a token,” the Apostle writes, “of that which must precede the final coming of Christ: there will be first the apostasy , and the revelation of the Man of Lawlessness , the great enemy of God. ( v. 4 ) He will attempt to annihilate religion, and will seat himself in God’s temple as the sole object of human worship. The spirit of atheistic lawlessness, to be incarnated in him, is already actively at work but for the present under restraint , as I pointed out to you. ( v. 6 ) One day, however, the restraint will be withdrawn; and then the Lawless One will stand revealed! whom the Lord Jesus by His breath will consume, and destroy by the splendour of His coming! ( v. 9 ) Satan will instigate the great Opposer, and attest his coming by miracles, suited to deceive those whose hearts are inclined to falsehood. Their deception will be the fit punishment for their rejection of the truth of God, and their love of lies and wickedness.
( v. 13 ) “Far different, brethren, is it with you. God has set His love upon you and made you His own. For this end He sanctifies your spirit, and His truth commands your faith. And from our lips you received salvation, for which we owe to God continual thanksgiving. ( v. 15 ) We bid you stand fast, and hold firmly by all that we have taught you, both by word and letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself be your comforter; may God Who loves you and has given you in His grace eternal hopes and consolations, comfort your hearts and sustain you in all your service both of deed and word!
Ch. 3. “Let us add, that we in turn need your prayers. We would fain see the gospel triumph at Corinth, as It did in Thessalonica. Pray that we may be delivered from evil and unbelieving men. Surely our faithful Lord will be your keeper. ( v. 4 ) And we rely on your faithfulness and regard for our injunctions. The Lord lead you still in the way of God’s love and Christ’s patience!
( v. 6 ) “There is one especial charge we have to lay upon you: we require, in the name and authority of Christ, that you have no fellowship with insubordinate brethren, with any who act in defiance of the rule of life we prescribed. What that is you know by our example. ( v. 8 ) Far were we from eating the bread of idleness, from burdening others with our maintenance and insisting on our right to live at their cost. ( v. 10 ) And we always said, Let the idler suffer hunger . ( v. 11 ) Yet we hear that there are men of this kind in your Church unruly, neglecting their own business, meddling with that of others. In the name of Christ we solemnly charge them to be quiet, and to earn an honest living. And none of you must be discouraged by their misconduct. ( v. 14 ) If any of the offenders still refuses correction, let him be a marked man, have no company with him. Perhaps he will then be ashamed. Still you must not regard him as an enemy, but as a brother needing admonition.
( v. 16 ) “Now may peace be with you, from the Lord of peace! May He be with you all!
“I add this greeting with my own hand, and sign it, Paul. Note the signature: you will in future know my letters by it.
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all!”
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17