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- 1 Thessalonians
by George Milligan
1. The City of Thessalonica
Antipater of Thessalonica
(time of Augustus).
Thessalonica was built close to the site of the ancient town of Therma or Therme, so named from the hot mineral springs which still exist in the vicinity, and at the head of the Gulf called after it the Thermaic Gulf. Accounts differ as to the origin of the new city, but, according to the most probable story, it was founded by Cassander, the son-in-law of Philip of Macedon, about the year 315 b.c. and was called by him Thessalonica in honour of his wife, the step-sister of Alexander the Great. Its earliest inhabitants were drawn not only from Therme, but from several of the neighbouring cities on the shores of the Gulf, and there is ample evidence that it soon rose to be a place of very considerable importance. It owed this in large measure to the natural advantages of its situation, commanding, as it did, on the landward side the rich plain of the Strymon, on which there also converged the three plains, watered respectively by the Axias, the Lydias, and the Haliacmon, and being furnished towards the sea with a good natural harbour.
When, accordingly, in 168 b.c. Macedonia was conquered by the Romans, and divided into four districts, Thessalonica, ‘celeberrima urbs,’ was made the capital of Macedonia Secunda. And when, a few years later, 146 b.c., the different districts were united into a single province, it became virtually the capital of the whole.
Under Roman rule the prosperity of the city continued to advance rapidly. Its situation on the great Via Egnatia, about midway between Dyrrachium on the Adriatic and the river Hebrus in Thrace, brought it into such direct contact with the stream of traffic that was continually passing along that busy highway between Rome and her Eastern dependencies, that Cicero can speak of its inhabitants as ‘placed in the lap of the Empire’; and it was here that he himself sought refuge in the quaestor’s house during his exile.
On the outbreak of the First Civil War (49 b.c.), Thessalonica was the head-quarters of the Pompeian party, but during the Second was found on the side of Octavius and Antonius, and, when their cause triumphed, was declared by way of reward a free city. The consequence was that, unlike its neighbour Philippi, which was a Roman colony, Thessalonica remained an essentially Greek city, having the right to summon its own assembly, and being ruled by its own magistrates, who, according to the account in Acts, were known by the somewhat unusual title of politarchs. This fact, formerly urged against St Luke’s accuracy, has in recent years been triumphantly vindicated by the discovery of various inscriptions in which it reappears.
Other proofs of the flourishing state of Thessalonica are afforded by Strabo who, writing about a quarter of a century before St Paul’s visit, describes it as the most populous of the Macedonian cities of his time, a description that is confirmed a century later by Lucian.
Of St Paul’s connexion with Thessalonica, and the circumstances attending the introduction of Christianity into it, we shall have occasion to speak later. Meanwhile it may be well to summarize briefly the story of the city’s fortunes down to the present time.
About the middle of the third century it was erected into a colony, and, according to Duchesne, it probably received about the same time the title of metropolis of Macedonia. Before the foundation of Constantinople, it seems even to have been thought of as the possible capital of the world.
Its patron-saint Demetrius was martyred about 304 a.d., and towards the close of the same century (389 a.d.) Thessalonica again received unhappy prominence through the ruthless massacre of at least seven thousand of its inhabitants by the order of the Emperor Theodosius, an act for which he was refused absolution by Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, until, after the lapse of eight months, he performed the most abject penance.
In the following century Theodoret describes Thessalonica as ‘the greatest and most populous’ city of the district, and the place which it gradually acquired in the history of the Church is shown by the fact that Cameniata in the tenth century bestows upon it, as its special right, the proud title of ‘the orthodox city,’ a designation it continued to deserve throughout the Middle Ages, when, according to its historian Tafel, it proved itself ‘fax quaedam humanitatis … fideique Christianae promotrix.’
Amongst its great names during this period none was more illustrious than that of Eustathius, who was not only the foremost scholar of his age, but, as archbishop of Thessalonica from 1175 to c. 1192, proved himself ‘a man of political insight, and a bold and far-seeing reformer.’
Meanwhile the outward fortunes of the city were very varied, but finally, after being plundered by the Saracens in 904, falling into the hands of the Normans and Tancred in 1185, and being placed under the protection of the Venetian Republic in 1422, it was taken by the Turks under Amurath 2. in 1430, and has remained ever since in their possession.
At the present time under the popular name of Saloniki or (Turkish) Selanik, it is the second city in European Turkey, and carries on a large and flourishing trade. A recent traveller, after a careful examination of the statistics on the spot, estimated the number of its inhabitants a few years ago at 150,000, of whom he considered that no fewer than 90,000 were Jews. These Jews are not, however, to be thought of as the direct descendants of the Jews of St Paul’s day, but are Spanish Jews whose ancestors found refuge here when the Jews were expelled from Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella. They still speak a kind of Spanish ‘much damaged by wear and tear, and picturesquely patched up with Turkish and other foreign elements,’ and occupy a distinct mahallah or quarter of the city. Their importance is shown by the fact that they possess about thirty synagogues, as compared with about an equal number of Turkish mosques and twelve Christian churches, while a large part of the trade of the city is in their hands.
The Greek influence on the town, however, notwithstanding the comparatively small number of Greek inhabitants, is still predominant, so that ‘on the whole, Salonica may be said still to be what it has been for more than twenty centuries—a centre of Hellenic influence and civilisation.’
2. St Paul and the Thessalonian Church
Cameniata De excidio Thessalonicensi § 3.
‘It is this close combination of cosmopolitan Judaism with cosmopolitan Hellenism which afforded the new religion its non-local, non-parochial hot-beds, and fitted it
(humanly speaking) for the acceptance of the world.’
J. P. Mahaffy The Silver Age of the Greek World (1906) p. 317.
1. It was during what is generally known as his Second Missionary Journey that St Paul first visited Thessalonica, and founded the Christian Church there. Obliged to leave Philippi, the Apostle along with Silas and, in all probability, Timothy, turned his face towards the South, and, following the line of the Great Egnatian Road which here runs through scenery of great natural beauty, pushed on steadily over the hundred miles that separated Philippi from Thessalonica. In the latter busy seaport with its varied population and strenuous life St Paul would find just such a scene of work as he most desired. At once along with his companions he entered on an active mission amongst the Jews of the place, frequenting the Synagogue on three successive Sabbath days (
In doing so, as was natural with such an audience, the Apostle found a common starting-point in the Jewish Scriptures, expounding and quoting them to prove (
So far as the Jews were concerned, the immediate effect of this preaching was small, but, in addition to the ‘some’ of them who were persuaded, the historian of the Acts mentions other two classes who ‘consorted’ with the Apostles, or more exactly ‘were allotted’ to them by Divine favour (
How long St Paul continued his work amongst the Gentiles in Thessalonica we can only conjecture, but there are various particulars that indicate that it may well have extended over several months. Thus, apart from the two separate occasions on which he received help from Philippi (Philippians 4:15 f.), a fact in itself pointing to a considerable lapse of time, the Apostle evidently found it worth his while to settle down for a time to his ordinary trade, and thereby secure the opportunity not only of instructing his converts as a whole in the main Christian truths (1 Thessalonians 1:9 f.), but of dealing directly and personally with them (1 Thessalonians 2:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:11; see further p. 45). There is also evidence of a certain amount of organization in the newly-formed community either immediately previous to or after the missionaries’ departure (1 Thessalonians 5:12 ff.). Nor is it without significance as showing how widely St Paul had succeeded in making his presence and influence felt outside the circle of his own immediate followers that ‘the city,’ evidently ‘all the city’ (A.V.), though there is no warrant for ‘all’ in the original, was set in an uproar by the attack made against him (v. 5).
The primary instigators of this attack were the Jews who, moved by jealousy of the success attending St Paul’s preaching, but unable of themselves to thwart it, enlisted on their side ‘certain vile fellows of the rabble,’ the lazzaroni of the marketplace, who must have been very numerous in such a city as Thessalonica, and with their aid assaulted the house of Jason, in which apparently the Apostles were lodging. It had been their intention to bring them before that assembly of the people which, in virtue of their libera condicio (see p. 22 n.), the Thessalonians were privileged to hold. But means had been found for the Apostles’ escape, and the mob had to content themselves with wreaking their vengeance on Jason and certain others of the brethren by bringing them before the politarchs, or city-magistrates, on the charge of being revolutionaries—‘these that have turned the world upside down’ (v. 6)—and more particularly of acting ‘contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another King, Jesus’ (v. 7).
The charge was cleverly planned, and in itself clearly betrays the Jewish prompting which, as we have just seen, underlay the whole riot, for only Jews thought of the Messiah as King, and could thus have accused the Apostles of proclaiming Jesus as ‘another’ King. At the same time no charge was more likely to arouse the hostility of the Greek magistrates. As in the case of Pilate, when a similar accusation was laid before him against the Lord Himself (Luke 23:2, John 19:12; John 19:15), the politarchs would be very sensitive to any appearance of tolerating treason against the honour of the Emperor, and it says much for their desire to administer justice impartially that they contented themselves with requiring that ‘security,’ probably in the form of a pecuniary surety or bond, should be taken from Jason and the others that the peace of the city should not be further disturbed. Moderate, however, though this decision was, it made it impossible for St Paul to remain in Thessalonica without the risk of involving his friends in serious troubles, and possibly of arousing active official opposition to his whole work, and accordingly along with Silas he departed by night for the important city of Beroea, whither he was followed soon after by Timothy.
2. The missionaries’ reception there was even more encouraging than at Thessalonica. No longer ‘some’ but ‘many’ of the Jews believed, and along with them ‘of the Greek women of honourable estate, and of men, not a few’ (v. 12). But the work was not long allowed to go on in peace. The bitter malice of the Thessalonian Jews followed St Paul here, and so successful were they in again ‘stirring up and troubling the multitudes’ that the brethren sent for the Apostle to go ‘as far as to the sea,’ where, probably at Dium, some of them embarked along with him for Athens (v. 14 f.).
3. Meanwhile Silas and Timothy remained behind at Beroea, perhaps to prosecute the newly started work, possibly also to know when it would be safe for t Paul to return to Thessalonica, but in any case with instructions to rejoin him as quickly as possible. If we had only the account in Acts to guide us, we might imagine that they were not able to accomplish this until St Paul reached Corinth (cf. Acts 18:5). But again the historical narrative requires to be supplemented by the Apostle’s own Epistle. For the mention of the despatch of Timothy on a special mission to Thessalonica while St Paul was still at Athens shows us that he at least had previously rejoined the Apostle there (1 Thessalonians 3:1 f.); and if so, it is probable that Silas had also done the same in accordance with the urgent message already sent to both (Acts 17:15). And if we can think of the despatch of Silas himself shortly afterwards on a similar errand, perhaps to Philippi, with which at the time St Paul was in communication (Philippians 4:15), we can understand, in accordance with the definite statements of Acts 18:5, how on the conclusion of their respective missions the two messengers ‘came down from Macedonia’ to St Paul at Corinth, to which city he had gone on alone from Athens.
The report which Timothy brought back from Thessalonica, supplemented possibly by a letter from the Thessalonians themselves addressed to St Paul, was evidently in the main highly satisfactory. The Thessalonians, to judge from the Epistle afterwards addressed to them, which is our only definite source of information, had proved themselves worthy of their ‘election’ not only in the manner in which they themselves had received the Gospel, but in the ‘ensample’ they had subsequently set to believers throughout Macedonia and Achaia (1 Thessalonians 1:4 ff.). At the same time they were exposed to certain dangers requiring immediate attention if they were indeed to prove a ‘crown of glorying’ at the Parousia of the Lord Jesus (1 Thessalonians 2:19).
4. Thus it would appear that no sooner had St Paul and his companions left Thessalonica than suspicions had begun to be cast upon the whole course of their Apostolic ministry, with the obvious intention of diverting the Thessalonian believers from their allegiance. Nowhere are we expressly told who were the authors of these insinuations. And in consequence many have referred them to the heathen population of Thessalonicawho would naturally resent bitterly the defection of their fellow-countrymen from the old standards of faith and morals. But if so, it hardly seems likely that their opposition would have taken this particular form, or, even supposing it had, that it would have had much effect upon the Christian converts. These last could not but know that their fellow-countrymen’s zeal against the Apostles was dictated not only by prejudice, but by ignorance of the facts of the case, and they would hardly allow themselves to be led astray by those who had never put themselves in the way of discovering what was the real character and teaching of the men they were so eager to traduce.
If, however, the attacks came from a Jewish source, the case would be very different. The Thessalonian Jews would be able to claim that in virtue of their own past history, and the ‘oracles’ that had been committed to their fathers, they were in a better position to decide than any newly admitted Gentile converts could possibly be, what was the true relation of the Apostles’ teaching to the whole course of that Divine revelation, of which it claimed to be the natural and necessary fulfilment. We must not indeed suppose that their attacks assumed the definite form which St Paul had afterwards to face in connexion with his Judaistic opponents in Galatia and elsewhere. Of this there is as yet no trace in the Epistles before us. On the other hand we can easily understand how ready the Jewish inhabitants of Thessalonica would be by open assertion and covert hint to throw discredit on the Apostle’s character and credentials with the object of undermining as far as possible the effect of his work.
It is this latter consideration indeed, which alone enables us to understand the large place which St Paul devotes to this subject in his Epistle. It may seem strange at first sight that he should have thought it worth while to defend himself and his companions from attacks coming from a source so manifestly inspired by unworthy motives. But the Apostle could not but recognize that much more than his own personal honour was at stake. The whole future of the Gospel at Thessalonica would be endangered, if these ‘perverse and wicked men’ (2 Thessalonians 3:2) were allowed to get their way. And therefore it was that he found it necessary for the Word’s sake, if not for his own, that they should not only be answered, but repudiated and condemned in the most emphatic manner (1 Thessalonians 2:15 f.).
Nor was this the only point on which Timothy’s report caused St Paul grave concern. The persecution, which the Apostle had foretold as the lot of Christ’s people everywhere, had evidently fallen in full measure on the young Thessalonian community (1 Thessalonians 3:3 ff.). And though as yet there were no signs of active backsliding, but rather the contrary, St Paul dreaded that such a state of things might not continue, and that his converts might suffer themselves to be ‘lured away’ (v. 3) from that standing fast in the Lord (v. 8), through which alone they could hope to obtain full and complete salvation at the Lord’s appearing (v. 13, cf. 5:9). The exhortation of a father therefore (2:11) was required, as well as the tender dealing of a mother (2:7), and this all the more in view of certain other matters of a more directly practical kind, on which Timothy had evidently represented the Thessalonians as requiring further guidance.
These concerned in the first place their moral conduct. Christian believers though they were, the Thessalonians had not yet learned the completeness of the severance which their new faith demanded from various habits and practices they had hitherto been accustomed to regard as ‘indifferent,’ nor the necessity of a quiet, orderly continuance in the work and relationships of their daily life, notwithstanding the speedy coming of their Lord for which they had been taught to look (4:1–12).
And then as regards that coming itself, there were at least two points on which the Apostle’s previous instruction required to be supplemented.
In the first place the Thessalonians had to be reassured on a question which was giving them grave concern, and on which apparently they had definitely asked St Paul’s opinion. What of those of their number who were falling asleep while as yet Christ had not come? Would they in consequence be shut out from the glory by which His coming would be attended? By no means, so the Apostle hastened to comfort them, in one of the few pictorial representations of the Last Things that occur in his writings; they would rather be the first to share in that glory. For not till the ‘dead in Christ’ had risen, would the living be caught up along with them to meet the descending Lord in the air (4:13–18).
In the second place, as regarded the time of that coming, which to the Thessalonians in their eager love for Christ might seem to be unaccountably delayed, St Paul recalled what they ought never to have forgotten, that the Day of the Lord would come as a surprise, and that in consequence their present duty was not to be over-anxious on a point regarding which no certain knowledge was possible, but rather to watch and be sober, putting on the triple armour of faith and love and hope—a hope grounded on God’s gracious purposes towards them, and on the redemptive work of Christ through which alone the fulfilment of these purposes had been rendered possible (5:1–11).
Nor was this all, but as appears from the closing section of the Epistle, St Paul had evidently also been informed of certain difficulties that had arisen in the internal discipline of the young community, and in consequence seized the opportunity of reinforcing the authority of those who had been placed in positions of trust, and of laying down certain general rules of holy living, by means of which the well-being of the whole community might be secured, and its members be ‘preserved entire, without blame’ at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ (5:12–23).
Such then would seem to have been the circumstances which led up to the writing of this Epistle, and the manner in which St Paul met them. Nothing indeed can be clearer from the Epistle itself than how much the Apostle regretted having to fall back upon this method of communicating with his beloved converts. Gladly would he rather have revisited them in person, and indeed, as he expressly tells them, on two occasions he had actually made the attempt, but in vain—‘Satan hindered us’ (2:18). No other course then remained open for him but to have resort to a letter, a means of conveying religious truth which he had made peculiarly his own, and of which he had doubtless frequently availed himself before in communicating with the Churches he had founded.
It is noteworthy too, how closely on the present occasion St Paul associated Silas and Timothy with himself in the writing of the Epistle. For not only do their names occur along with his own in the Address in accordance with a favourite and characteristic practice, but the first person plural is maintained throughout both this Epistle and its successor with a regularity to which we have no subsequent parallel. It will be well therefore to recognize this fact in our subsequent exposition of the Epistle’s teaching, and to refer the views there expressed to all three Apostles, even though St Paul must be regarded as their primary and principal author.
5. This same consideration helps also to establish what our previous account of St Paul’s movements has made sufficiently clear, that it was at Corinth that the First Epistle to the Thessalonians was written, for it was there, as we have seen, that Silas and Timothy rejoined him on the conclusion of their respective missions, nor, so far at least as we can gather from the Lukan account, was there any subsequent period in their history when the three missionaries were together in one place, and consequently in a position to act as joint-sponsors of the letter.
With this view the internal evidence of the Epistle itself is in complete harmony. To place it earlier, as for example at Athens, in accordance with the ‘subscription’ in certain mss. and followed by the A.V., would hardly leave time for all that had taken place in the Church at Thessalonica after the Apostles’ departure (2:14, 3:1–6), and, above all, for the influence the Thessalonian believers had been able to exert on the surrounding district (1:7 f., 4:10). On the other hand, to place it subsequent to St .Paul’s departure from Corinth where he remained a year and a half (Acts 18:11), is obviously inconsistent with the freshness that marks his references to his Thessalonian friends (1:5, 2:1 ff.), and with his express statement that as yet he had been separated from them only ‘for a short season’ (2:17).
6. If then we are correct in regarding Corinth as the place of writing of the Epistle, and are prepared further to think of a comparatively early period in the Apostle’s sojourn there, the exact date will be determined by the view taken of the chronology of St Paul’s life. It is a subject on whichauthorities widely differ, but the general tendency is to throw the dates backward rather than forward, and we shall probably not be far wrong if we place the writing of our Epistle somewhere about 50–51 a.d.
Harnack (Chronol. d. altchr. Litt. (1897) 1. p. 239 n.) dates the two Epistles as early as 48–49, and in this he is followed by McGiffert (art. ‘Thessalonians (Epistles to)’ in Encyc. Bibl. col. 5037). The ‘Chronology of the N.T.’ advocated by Turner in Hastings’ D.B., which has met with wide acceptance, would throw them forward a year (50), while Ramsay (St Paul p. 254) prefers 51–52, the earlier of these dates being also supported by St Paul’s latest biographer Clemen (see his Paulus 1. p. 398). W. Brückner (Chronol. p. 193 ff.), while dating the four chief Epistles as late as 61–62, agrees that, if 1 Thessalonians is really the work of St Paul, it must be carried back to a much earlier period in the Apostle’s life, when his theological system was not yet fully developed; cf. Menegoz Le Péché et la Rédemption d’après Saint Paul (Paris, 1882) p. 4.
On this view too of the date, we are probably justified in regarding 1 Thessalonians as the earliest of St Paul’s extant Epistles. It is impossible indeed to ignore the fact that in recent years this honour has been claimed with increasing persistency for the Epistle to the Galatians by a very influential band of scholars. And, if we are prepared to admit the South Galatian address of that Epistle, there is no doubt that a place can be found for it previous to the above-mentioned date, and, further, that this position is favoured by the often striking coincidences between its language and the incidents of the First Missionary Journey, and more specially the speech delivered by the Apostle at Pisidian Antioch in the course of it.
On the other hand, if such resemblances in language and thought are to be reckoned with, how are we to explain the fact that in the Thessalonian Epistle, written, according to most of the supporters of this view, very shortly after Galatians (see small print below), there is an almost complete absence of any trace of the distinctive doctrinal positions of that Epistle? No doubt the differences in the circumstances under which the two Epistles were written, and the particular ends they had in view, may account for much of this dissimilarity. At the same time, while not psychologically impossible, it is surely most unlikely that the same writer—and he too a writer of St Paul’s keen emotional nature—should show no signs in this (according to this view) later Epistle of the conflict through which he had just been passing, and on which he had been led to take up so strong and decided a position.
If, however, in accordance with the older view, 1 Thessalonians along with its successor to the same Church can still be placed first, all is clear. As an example of St Paul’s missionary teaching, written before the acuter controversies of his later years had forced themselves upon him, and made inevitable the presentment of the old truths in a new way, it stands in its natural relation to the earlier missionary discourses of Acts, which in so many respects it resembles, while the Epistle to the Galatians ranks itself along with the other great doctrinal Epistles to the Corinthians and the Romans, whether, with the majority of modern critics, we place it first amongst these, or, with Bishop Lightfoot, in an intermediate position between 2 Corinthians and Romans.
Considerable variety of opinion exists among the supporters of the priority of Galatians as to the exact date to be assigned to it. Dr Vernon Bartlet (Exp. 5. 10. p. 263 ff., Apost. Age p. 84 ff.), reviving a view suggested by Calvin, thinks that it was written at Antioch on St Paul’s way to the Council of Jerusalem. The same conclusion was arrived at, much about the same time, on independent grounds by the Romanist Dr Weber (see his Die Abfassung des Galaterbriefes vor dem Apostel-Konzil, Ravensburg, 1900, summarized in J.T.S. 3. (1902) p. 630 ff.), and recently has formed the main thesis of Mr Douglas Round’s Essay The Date of St Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (Cambridge, 1906). As a rule, however, a period subsequent to the Council of Jerusalem is preferred—McGiffert (Hist. of Christianity in the Apost. Age p. 226 ff.) dating the Epistle from Antioch before St Paul departed on his Second Missionary Journey, Clemen (as against his own earlier view, Chronol. p. 199 ff.) assigning it rather to the Apostle’s stay in Athens (Paulus 1. p. 396 ff., 2. p. 164 ff.), and Zahn (Einl. in d. N.T. 1. p. 139 ff.) and Rendall (Exp. 4. 9. p. 254) carrying it forward to the beginning of the visit to Corinth in the course of the same journey. On this last view it can only have preceded the Thessalonian Epistles by a few weeks, or at most months (cf. Bacon Introd. to the N.T. p. 57 f.). The later, and more widely accepted, dates assigned to Galatians have no direct bearing upon the point before us, except in so far as they emphasize that we are there dealing with a wholly different ‘type’ of teaching from that which meets us in the Thessalonian Epistles.
7. St Paul makes no mention of how his Epistle was sent to Thessalonica, but at a time when there was no reguiar system of posts except for imperial purposes, it can only have been by the hand of a personal courier or friend. And it was perhaps through him on his return that the Apostle received the news which led to the writing of his second Epistle.
8. That news was evidently of a somewhat mingled character. On the one hand, there were not wanting traces of an exceedingly growing faith and of an abounding love on the Thessalonians’ part (2 Thessalonians 1:3) together with an endurance under continued persecution which called forth the Apostle’s warmest praise, and seemed in his eyes a happy augury of his converts’ future bliss at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven (1:4–12). But as against this, there were only too evident signs that the thought of the imminence of that revelation was still exercising a disturbing influence over the Thessalonians’ daily conduct. So far from their excitement having been allayed by St Paul’s first letter, as he hoped it would have been, the reverse would seem rather to have been the case, and not only so, but their restlessness had been still further fomented by certain pneumatic utterances, and even by carefully reasoned words and a letter, one or all of them shielding themselves under the Apostle’s name and authority, to the effect that the Day of the Lord was not only imminent, but was actually come (2:2).
In these circumstances then, what more natural than that St Paul should seize the opportunity of once more recalling to his converts another aspect of his eschatological teaching, of which he had been in the habit of speaking (
9. More need hardly be said as to the circumstances in which this Second Epistle was written, for the general similarity between it and its predecessor, to which fuller reference will have to be made afterwards (see p. 80 ff.), shows that in the main the historical conditions of the Thessalonian Church were very little altered, and that consequently the Second Epistle must have been written not many months after the First. We therefore date it also from Corinth within the period already specified 50–51 a.d.
The idea first advocated by Grotius (Annot. in N.T. 2. p. 715 ff.), and adopted by Ewald (Sendschreiben des Paulus p. 17 f.), Laurent (NTliche Stud. p. 49 ff.), and (from his own standpoint) Baur (Paul, Eng. Tr. 2. p. 336 ff.), that 2 Thessalonians was written before 1 Thessalonians can no longer be said to have any serious supporters. Thus, without attaching too great weight to such passages as 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:15 which, if not directly referring to 1 Thessalonians, are best explained by its existence, it is excluded by 1 Thessalonians 2:17 to 1 Thessalonians 3:6 which could hardly have been written by St Paul, if he had previously addressed a letter to Thessalonica. The whole relationship indeed of 2 to 1 Thessalonians is of a secondary character alike on its literary side, and in the picture presented of the ‘developed’ circumstances of the Church, as shown by the heightened praise (2 Thessalonians 1:4 : 1 Thessalonians 2:14) and blame (2 Thessalonians 3:6 f.: 1 Thessalonians 4:11), which these circumstances now called forth.
10. Regarding St Paul’s subsequent connexion with the Thessalonian Church we have no definite information, but it is hardly possible to doubt that on more than one occasion he was able to carry out his ardently cherished desire of revisiting in person his friends there. Thus he would naturally pass through the city both coming and going on his Third Missionary Journey (Acts 20:1 ff.), and if we accept the belief in a renewed period of active work on the part of the Apostle between a first and second Roman imprisonment, he would be almost certain to stop at Thessalonica on the occasion of that journey to Philippi which he had previously carefully planned in the event of his again finding himself a free man (Philippians 1:26; Philippians 2:24). Nor, once more, could Thessalonica fail to be included in his programme if he ever paid that last visit to Macedonia, to which he alludes in his First Epistle to Timothy (1:3).
3. General Character and Contents of the pistles
‘Jeder einzelne paulinische Brief ist eine christliche That und will als solche verstanden sein.’
W. Bornemann Die Thessalonicherbriefe p. 256.
1. From what has already been said of the circumstances under which the Epistles to the Thessalonians were written, it must be clear that they are in no sense literary documents, still less theological treatises, but genuine letters intended to meet passing needs, and with no thought of any wider audience than those to whom they were originally addressed. Of all the N.T. Epistles which have come down to us, they are amongst the most ‘personal,’ and illustrate to perfection the ‘stenographed conversation’ which Renan claims as a distinctive feature of the Pauline style.
Greatly however as this adds to the living interest of the Epistles, it is one main source of their difficulties. For, whether or not they form only part of a correspondence that was passing between St Paul and the Thessalonian Church (cf. p. 30), they so abound in allusions to what the Thessalonians already know, or have been asking, that it is hardly too much to say, that the more familiar the subjects with which they deal were to their first readers, the more veiled they are from us.
It is a complete mistake, however, to suppose that because our Epistles are thus ‘occasional’ writings in the strict sense of the word, they are therefore marked by that poverty of subject-matter which has sometimes been urged against them. On the contrary, if, as we shall have occasion to see more fully again, what we have come to regard as the distinctive doctrines of Paulinism are awanting, and awanting because the special circumstances demanding them had not yet arisen, the Epistles are nevertheless filled with definite religious teaching. Combined with the speeches in Acts, which in so many respects they recall, they contain the best evidence we possess as to the general character of St Paul’s missionary preaching to Gentiles.
It is not possible to illustrate this at length here, but 1 Thessalonians 1:9 f. may be referred to as a convenient summary of the earliest Pauline teaching with its two foci of Monotheism, the belief in the one living and true God, as distinguished from the vain idols of heathenism, and the Judgment, as heralded by the Parousia of God’s Son from heaven, who had already proved Himself the only complete Rescuer from the coming Wrath. In these great truths, proclaimed not argumentatively, but ‘in power and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance’ (1 Thessalonians 1:5), the missionaries found the most effective means of reaching the consciences, and satisfying the religious instincts of their heathen auditors, and so of preparing the way for other and fuller aspects of Christian doctrine.
The consequence is that while our Epistles do not exhibit the constructive or dialectic skill of the Epistle to the Romans, or approach the mystical heights of the Epistle to the Ephesians, they reveal with marvellous clearness what has well been called the ‘pastoral’ instinct of the great Apostle, and present an unrivalled picture alike of his own missionary character and aims, and of the nature of the community he is addressing.
2. In none other indeed of his Epistles, unless it be in the companion Epistle to a Macedonian Church, the Epistle to the Philippians, or in the apologia of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, does the real Paul stand out more clearly before us in all the charm of his rich and varied personality. We see his intense affection for his young converts (1 Thessalonians 2:7 f., 2:17 ff., 3:5–10, 2 Thessalonians 1:4), and his desire for their sympathy and prayers (1 Thessalonians 5:25, 2 Thessalonians 3:1 f.); his keen sensitiveness as to what others are saying of him, and the confident assertion of the purity of his motives (1 Thessalonians 2:1-12); his proud claim of what is due to him as an Apostle of Christ (1 Thessalonians 2:6), and his willingness to forego this right in view of the higher interests of his work (1 Thessalonians 2:9, 2 Thessalonians 3:8 f.); his longing desire for the Thessalonians’ progress in spiritual things (1 Thessalonians 3:11 ff., 2 Thessalonians 1:11 f.), and the fierceness of his indignation against those who were hindering the cause of Christ (1 Thessalonians 2:15 f., 4:6, 2 Thessalonians 3:2): and we notice how through all St Paul is constrained and ruled by his own sense of union with his Risen Lord, and dependence on His authority (1 Thessalonians 4:1 f., 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:12).
Very noteworthy too are the tact and the courtesy which the Apostle everywhere displays. So far from being the ‘very disagreeable personage both to himself and others,’ whom Nietzsche so perversely discovers, he shows the most painstaking desire to do full justice not only to his fellow-workers (cf. p. 34 f.), but also to his readers. With an intensity of feeling, that finds difficulty in expressing itself (1 Thessalonians 3:9), he gives thanks for all (1 Thessalonians 1:2 f., cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:3): all, notwithstanding the presence of weak and faulty believers amongst them, are treated as sons of light, and of the day (1 Thessalonians 5:5): and it is to all, with evident emphasis (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:28), that the closing greeting of his second and severer Epistle is sent (2 Thessalonians 3:18)—even the man who is showing signs of setting aside his authority is still a ‘brother’ (2 Thessalonians 3:14 f.).
This last form of address, indeed, forms one of the Epistles’ most noticeable features. It is throughout as ‘brothers’ that St Paul regards his readers, and he never starts a new line of thought without reminding them of the fact, as if to bring home to them in the clearest manner, that all these questions concerned both them and him alike.
Hence too, in the appeals which he addresses to them, St Paul never loses an opportunity of going back upon his readers’ previous knowledge (1 Thessalonians 1:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:1 f., 1 Thessalonians 2:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:9, 1 Thessalonians 2:11, 1 Thessalonians 3:3 f., 1 Thessalonians 4:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:5 f., 1 Thessalonians 3:7). And when he finds it necessary to exhort, he almost goes out of his way to show his appreciation of the zeal the young community has already displayed (1 Thessalonians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:11, 2 Thessalonians 3:4).
And if such is the spirit of St Paul’s missionary work, an equally clear light is thrown upon its methods. Driven from Philippi, the Apostle might naturally, for a time at any rate, have turned to some quieter and more obscure spot; but instead, in characteristic fashion, he boldly carried forward his message to what was, in many ways, the most important city of the district, in order that from it as a centre the influence of his message might penetrate into the whole of the surrounding country.
This is not, however, to say that St Paul at once entered on an open and active propaganda amongst the varied population of Thessalonica. To have done so would only have been to court defeat; and even the preaching in the Synagogue, to which in the first instance he trusted for arresting attention, formed only a part, and perhaps the less important part of his work. That consisted rather in quiet and friendly converse with all whom his message had reached. And our Epistles enable us to picture him during those long hours of toil for his daily support, to which the fear of proving burdensome to others had driven him, gathering round him little companies of anxious inquirers, and with the authority of a father, and the tenderness of a mother, dealing with their individual needs (1 Thessalonians 2:11).
Hence the closeness of the bonds between St Paul and his Thessalonian converts: in no forced sense of the phrase they were literally his ‘greater self.’ To be parted from them was to suffer ‘bereavement’ of the acutest kind (1 Thessalonians 2:17): to hear of their continued well-doing was to ‘live’ (1 Thessalonians 3:8): to see them again was his ‘constant’ and ‘very exceeding’ prayer (1 Thessalonians 3:10).
Surely there can be no difficulty in recognizing here the portrait of one who ‘though he was Paul, was also a man,’ and who, in the fine phrase of another early writer, carried ‘music’ with him wherever his influence penetrated.
3. Hardly less striking than the picture of their writer is the picture of their first readers which our Epistles present—a picture all the more interesting because here alone in the Pauline writings we are brought face to face with a young Christian community in all the freshness and bloom of its first faith. The Thessalonians, who were by nature of a simple and sturdy type of character, had evidently accepted with peculiar eagerness the Apostolic message, and even amidst surrounding persecution had continued to display a characteristic fidelity, which was found deserving of all praise (1 Thessalonians 1:6 f., 2 Thessalonians 1:4 ff.).
There were however various ‘shortcomings’ (
On both points, therefore, we find St Paul addressing to them words of prudence and moderation, enforcing, on the one hand, the dignity and consecration of labour (1 Thessalonians 4:11 f., 2 Thessalonians 3:6 ff.), and, on the other, checking the self-assertive spirit, which threatened to disturb the peace of the whole community (1 Thessalonians 5:12 f., 2 Thessalonians 3:6).
For it is very noticeable that it is the community as a whole which principally bulks in the Apostle’s thoughts. Even though there are already clear traces of a certain class who were ‘to all appearance office-bearers of the Ecclesia,’ the services which they rendered ‘were not essentially different from services which members of the Ecclesia, simply as brethren, were to render each other. They too were to admonish the disorderly, as also to do the converse work of encouraging the feeble-minded. They too were to make the cause of the weak their own, to sustain them, which is at least one side, if not more, of the “helpful leadership” of the Elders; as well as to show long-suffering towards all.’
And if thus we have here only the first beginnings of later Church-organization, so Christian worship comes before us in its simplest and most comprehensive form. The principal stress is laid upon such primary religious duties as praise, prayer, and instruction in which all are invited to take part (1 Thessalonians 5:11). And as the kiss of peace is to be extended to all the brethren (1 Thessalonians 5:26), it is again upon all that the closing benediction rests (2 Thessalonians 3:18).
The very fact too that the Thessalonian believers require to be warned against the danger of indiscriminate bounty (2 Thessalonians 3:10 f.) shows that, though themselves drawn principally from the poorer and working classes, they had from the first risen to a full sense of their obligation in the matter of Christian giving. And that the same trait continued to distinguish their later history is proved by the warmth of St Paul’s commendation of the Macedonian Churches who, ‘according to their power, … yea and beyond their power,’ had responded to his appeal on behalf of the poor brethren in Judaea (2 Corinthians 8:1 ff.).
4. It is obvious from what has been said regarding the general character of our Epistles that it is vain to look in them for any definite plan. Their contents are too personal, too varied, to submit themselves to any such restraint. At the same time a distinct method and progress of thought is clearly traceable in them, so far at least as their leading topics are concerned. And though reference has already been made to most of these, it may be convenient for the student to have them briefly presented again in the order in which they occur.
5. Beginning with a greeting which happily combines the new watchword of ‘Grace’ with the old Hebraic salutation of ‘Peace,’ St Paul and his fellow-writers give thanks with striking warmth for the spiritual state of their Thessalonian brethren. And then, as if conscious that it is useless to say anything further until they have set themselves right with their converts, they proceed to refute certain calumnies, which, so they have been informed, are being circulated against themselves.
Their apologia takes, as is natural, the form of an historical narrative of their ministry at Thessalonica, and is marked by frequent appeals to their converts’ own knowledge of what its character had been. This has the further advantage of giving the Apostles the opportunity of again gratefully recognizing how readily the Thessalonians on their part have accepted the Word of God, and with what brave endurance they have faced the consequent persecution.
Returning to more personal matters, St Paul affirms his own and his companions’ great desire to see again those who have proved such a ‘glory’ to them. Only when this was clearly proved to be impossible had he consented to allow Timothy to act as his ambassador. And now that he has returned with the ‘good news’ of the Thessalonians’ faith and love, words fail the missionaries to express their deep sense of thanksgiving and joy. So far moreover from Timothy’s report leading them to acquiesce in their own enforced absence, it has rather increased their desire to see their young converts face to face, and to complete the good work begun in them. God alone can secure this. And accordingly it is their constant prayer that He will open up their way of return, and that meanwhile the hearts of the tried and afflicted Church may be stablished in holiness, in view of the approaching Parousia of the Lord.
A second, and more didactic, portion of the Epistle follows, in which the writers proceed to furnish fresh guidance for their readers in all that pertains to their Christian calling. In particular they warn them against the immorality, which was then so marked a feature in Greek city-life, and, while gladly recognizing their spirit of charity and brotherly-love, they summon all to diligence in their own work, that thereby they may preserve an honourable independence, and gain the respect of their heathen neighbours.
Their fears regarding those of their number who meanwhile are falling on sleep are met with the assurance that, so far from these being shut out from Christ’s glory on His Return, they will rather be the first to share in it. And then the suddenness of that Return, of which the Thessalonians have already been so fully warned, is made the basis of a practical appeal to watchfulness and sobriety.
Various exhortations, still addressed to the community as a whole, with reference to their attitude to their leaders, and to their more feeble brethren, follow, along with some general rules of Christian living. And the whole is sealed once more with a characteristic prayer to the God of peace.
Finally, the Epistle is brought to a close with a salutation and benediction.
6. The Second Epistle follows on very similar lines. After the opening address and greeting, the writers again give thanks for the Thessalonians’ state, dwelling with pride on their progress, as proved especially by their patient endurance under persecution. They bid them remember that that persecution, so far from leading them to think that God had forgotten them, should rather encourage them to look forward with confidence to the final reward by which their present sufferings will be crowned. And this, in its turn, leads to a graphic picture of what will result alike to believers and unbelievers when the Lord appears. A prayer, to which the Apostles are giving constant expression, that it may be well with the Thessalonian Church in that Day, is interjected.
The writers then proceed to what is the most distinctive feature of their second letter. They have learned that their former teaching regarding the Parousia, supplemented from other sources for which they disown all responsibility, has been the unwitting cause of an undue restlessness and excitement on the Thessalonians’ part. Accordingly, while saying nothing to shake the belief in the suddenness of the Parousia, they remind their readers of what they had clearly taught them before, that it will be preceded by certain well-defined signs. Amongst these the principal place is given to the appearance of the Man of lawlessness, as the full and crowning manifestation of the evil already working in their midst. For the present that manifestation is held in check by a restraining power, but how long this power will last no one can tell.
In any case, they urge, the Thessalonians must stand firm and hold fast the traditions they have already been taught, in humble dependence upon the God, Who alone can give them unfailing consolation, and strengthen them to do and to say all that is right.
To the same God let them also pray on the Apostles’ behalf. And meanwhile, in conformity with the example the Apostles themselves have set them, let them apply themselves with diligence to their daily work, shunning every disorderly brother, and at all times and in all ways seeking the ‘peace’ which is the peculiar property of ‘the Lord of peace,’ and which it is again the writers’ prayer that He may bestow upon them all.
The whole is then confirmed by an autographic salutation and benediction in St Paul’s own handwriting.
4. Language, Style, and Literary Affinities
Gregory of Nyssa Opp. Migne 11. 1303.
The two Epistles to the Thessalonians contain in all about 460 different words. Of these 27 are
Passing to the question of meaning, the influence of the Greek O. T. is unmistakable in the case of a very considerable number of words. With regard to others, we are led to look rather to the ordinary colloquial usage of the Apostle’s time for the exact sense he is desirous to convey.
The following is a list of the
Of these 17 words, nine, which are distinguished by an asterisk, are found in the LXX.; four (
Of these 10 words, five are again found in the LXX., three (
The total number of words, which have not yet been quoted from any other source than the two Epistles, is thus reduced to the two words already discussed in connexion with 1 Thess., while the Epistles’ 27
To the foregoing lists there may be added a number of words or phrases, occurring in the Epistles, which are used elsewhere in the N.T. only by St Paul.
Along with these, the following may be noted as occurring only in St Paul and the Lukan writings, or in St Paul and the Ep. to the Hebrews, or in all three combined.
From this brief notice of the peculiarities of the Pauline diction as illustrated by our Epistles, we may turn to one or two lists of words which are used in them for the first time in the N.T. in a special sense. Their history, which is traced more fully in the Textual or Additional Notes, is of importance as throwing light upon the main sources of the Apostle’s vocabulary.
Amongst these a first place must be given to the words, whose meaning here is due apparently in the first instance to the sense in which they were used in the Greek O.T. (including the Apocrypha), though in the case of many of them full allowance must also be made for the fact that they formed part of the ‘common’ dialect of the Apostle’s time.
The following are typical examples:
Other expressions which, starting from a technical or quasi-technical sense in classical or late Gk., have come to be adopted as technical terms of the Christian religion are
Finally regard must be had to the large number of words and phrases upon which much additional light has been thrown by the discovery of such non-literary records as the Greek inscriptions of the Eastern Provinces of the Roman Empire, and the papyrus-letters of Egypt.
Evidence of this will be found on practically every page of the following Commentary. Here it must suffice to draw attention to such interesting examples as are afforded by—
Deductions from mere lists of words are always dangerous, and in any case it is obviously impossible to form any definite conclusions as to the nature and the sources of the Pauline vocabulary on the evidence of two short Epistles. This much however is clear that the Apostle had an ample Greek vocabulary at his command, and, notwithstanding his Jewish origin and upbringing, had learned to use Greek as virtually a second mother-tongue. Not only did he speak freely in Greek, but apparently he thought in Greek, and was able to adapt to his own special purposes the words he found in current use.
On the other hand, our Epistles do nothing to confirm (though they may not disprove) the idea that St Paul had received a thorough Greek education. There are no quotations in them from ancient Greek authors, and at most two or three words (such as
The general style of the Epistles confirms what has just been said regarding their vocabulary. There is certainly in them none of the studied rhetorical art or skilfully framed dialect, with which the Apostle is sometimes credited elsewhere. St Paul was too much concerned with what he had to say to be able to think of mere literary devices. And the drawn-out sentences (1 Thessalonians 1:2 ff; 1 Thessalonians 2:14 ff., 2 Thessalonians 1:6 ff; 2 Thessalonians 2:8 ff.), the constant ellipses (1 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Thessalonians 2:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:4 ff., 1 Thessalonians 4:14, 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:7; 2 Thessalonians 3:6), the manner in which he ‘goes off’ at a word (1 Thessalonians 2:14 f., 5:8 f., 2 Thessalonians 1:10), the inversion of metaphors (1 Thessalonians 2:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:4), not only bear evidence to the intensity of the writer’s feelings at the time, but are in themselves valuable proofs of ‘unstudied epistolary genuineness.’
This is very far, however, from saying that either Epistle shows signs of carelessness, or is wanting in well-ordered passages which, if not comparable to, at least prepare the way for the splendid outbursts of some of the later Epistles (cf. e.g. 1 Thessalonians 2:3 ff., 2 Thessalonians 3:1 ff.). St Paul had evidently that highest gift of a great writer, the instinctive feeling for the right word, and even when writing, as he does here, in his most ‘normal’ style, and with an almost complete absence of the rhetorical figures, so largely practised in his day, he does not hesitate to avail himself of the more popular methods of adding point or emphasis to what he wants to say, by the skilful arrangement of his words (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 5:3, 2 Thessalonians 2:6), by compressed word-pictures (1 Thessalonians 1:8
No effort indeed is wanting on the writer’s part to bring home to his readers the extent of his heart-felt gratitude on their behalf, and his concern for their highest welfare. And here, as in all the other Pauline writings, we readily recognize that the arresting charm of the Apostle’s style is principally due to ‘the man behind,’ and that the highest form of all eloquence, ‘the rhetoric of the heart,’ is speaking to us.
3. Literary Affinities.
What has just been said will prepare us not to expect in our Epistles any direct affinities with the more distinctly literary works of St Paul’s or of previous times. There are, however, two sources which have left such an unmistakable impress upon the Apostle’s language, as well as thought, that they cannot be passed over here. They are (1) the Greek O.T., (2) certain Sayings of Jesus.
(1) We have seen already how dependent St Paul was on the LXX. for many of his most characteristic words. But his indebtedness does not stop there. So minute was his acquaintance with its phraseology, so completely had it passed in sucum et sanguinem, that, though in these alone of all his Epistles there is no direct quotation from the O.T., there are whole passages which are little more than a mosaic of O.T. words and expressions. Two short passages may serve to illustrate this.
The first is St Paul’s description of the result of his ministry in Thessalonica in 1 Thessalonians 1:8-10.
|1:8 ||Joel 3. (4.) 14 |
|ib. ||Psalms 18. (19.) 5 |
|1:9 ||4 Regn. 19:27 |
|ib. ||Isaiah 44:22 |
|ib. ||Joshua 3:10 |
|1:10 ||Isaiah 59:11 |
|ib. ||Sap. 16:8 |
|ib. ||Isaiah 13:9 |
Our second passage is the great picture of approaching Judgment in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10. Here, as generally in the eschatological passages of the Epistles, the O.T. basis of the whole conception is even more marked.
|1:6 ||Isaiah 66:4 |
|1:7 ||Isaiah 19:20 |
|1:7, 1:8 ||Exodus 3:2 |
|1:8 ||Isaiah 66:15 |
|1:9 ||Proverbs 27:12 |
|ib. ||4 Maccabees 10:15 |
|ib. ||Isaiah 2:10 |
|1:10 ||Psalms 88. (89.) 8 |
|ib. ||Zephaniah 1:7 |
(2) More important still is the relation of the Apostle’s language in our Epistles to certain Words of the Lord that have come down to us in the Gospels. For without taking any note of some of the subtler resemblances that have been detected here, there still remain sufficient to show that St Paul must have been well acquainted with the actual words of Jesus, and in all probability had actually some written collection of them in his possession.
The following are some of the most obvious examples:
|1 Thessalonians 2:7 ||Luke 22:27 |
|2:12 ||Matthew 22:3 (the Parable of the Marriage Feast) |
|2:14 ff. ||Matthew 23:31 f. |
|3:13 ||Matthew 16:27 |
|4:8 ||Luke 10:16 |
|4:9 ||Matthew 23:8 |
|4:16 f. ||Matthew 24:30 f. (Mark 13:26 f., Luke 21:27) |
|5:1 ||Matthew 24:36 |
|5:2 ||Matthew 24:43 (Luke 12:39) |
|5:3 ||Luke 21:34 |
|5:5 ||Luke 16:8 |
|5:6 ||Matthew 24:42 |
|5:7 ||Matthew 24:48 f. (Luke 12:45) |
|5:11 ||Matthew 16:18 |
|5:13 ||Mark 9:50 |
|5:18 ||Matthew 7:21 |
|2 Thessalonians 1:5 ||Luke 20:35 |
|1:7 ||Luke 17:30 |
|1:12 ||Primarily dependent on the LXX. (cf. Isai. 66:5), but see John 17:1; John 17:10; John 17:21 ff.|
|2:1 ||Matthew 24:31 |
|2:2 ||Matthew 24:6 |
|2:3 ||Matthew 24:4 |
|ib. ||Matthew 24:12 |
|2:4 ||Matthew 24:15 |
|2:9 f. ||Matthew 24:24 |
|2:11 ||Matthew 24:4 |
|3:3 ||Matthew 6:13 |
Upon the larger question, the relation in which so-called ‘Paulinism’ stands to the original teaching of Jesus, it is impossible to enter here. But no one can take account of the foregoing parallels, and of much that will come before us in the course of this Commentary, without realizing how conscious the disciple was throughout of his complete dependence upon his Master. His whole ‘gospel,’ when not directly inspired by the living Lord Himself (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:15
‘Doctrinae divinae vis confluit in amorem.’
Bengel ad 1 Thessalonians 4:9.
1. The Epistles to the Thessalonians are generally regarded as the least dogmatic of all the Pauline Epistles, and it is true that there is no mention in them of such distinctive aspects of ‘Paulinism’ as the contrasts betweenlaw and gospel, faith-righteousness and work-righteousness, and flesh and spirit—that the term ‘justification’ is wholly wanting—and that even the Apostle’s favourite watchword of ‘grace,’ which is found twice as often in his writings as in all the rest of the New Testament, occurs only in two passages (2 Thessalonians 1:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:16), apart from the more formal salutations and benedictions.
This is very far, however, from saying that St Paul had not by this time reached the definite system of Christian truth which, even when not expressed, lies at the base of all his writings. He had now been engaged for a period of nearly fifteen years in active missionary work, and if he does not find it necessary to lay special stress here on certain doctrines which later emerged into prominence owing to the controversies in which he found himself engaged, this is mainly due to the circumstances under which the Epistles were written.
Addressing as he was a small working-class community, composed principally of Gentile Christians, and surrounded by all the temptations of a great commercial seaport, St Paul recognized that what his converts stood most in need of was encouragement, combined with certain very definite warnings against the undue excitement they were displaying owing to a mistaken application of his former teaching. And consequently he fell back upon the main elements of that teaching, with the view not only of showing in what it really consisted, but of leading his readers on to the higher truths for which he had been preparing them. So far, therefore, from the simple theology which the Epistles contain, as compared, for example, with the more argumentative methods of the Epistles to the Galatians or Romans, throwing any doubt on their authenticity, as Menegoz seems tempted to think, it is precisely what we should expect in the circumstances, while the many points of contact which the Epistles exhibit with the language and teaching of the missionary discourses of Acts afford striking confirmation of the credibility of both (cf. p. 42).
2. In view then of the surroundings of his Thessalonian converts, we are not surprised to find the Apostle laying very special stress on the doctrine of God or rather of ‘the God,’ as contrasted with the many and vain gods whom formerly they worshipped.
It is from this God, as St Paul and his companions are never tired of asserting, that they themselves have derived ‘the gospel’ which they declare (1 Thessalonians 2:2 ff.), and, as they have been ‘approved’ by God Himself for this purpose (v. 4), so it is to His verdict that in the last instance they submit themselves (vv. 4, 10). How complete indeed their sense of dependence is appears in the emphatic manner in which on four distinct occasions the missionaries turn from the thought of their own efforts to the true Author of all grace and peace (1 Thessalonians 3:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:16; 2 Thessalonians 3:16). And it is to Him similarly that throughout the Epistles they refer the Thessalonians for all that concerns their own Christian life. They, who formerly were amongst those ‘who knew not the God’ (1 Thessalonians 4:5; cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:8), have now turned to ‘a God living and true’ (1 Thessalonians 1:9), and as their ‘faith to Godward’ (1 Thessalonians 1:8) is entirely due to the ‘call’ which ‘the God’ Himself has addressed to them (1 Thessalonians 1:4, 2 Thessalonians 2:13), so it is of Him that they must continue to walk worthily, if finally they are to reach the kingdom and glory to which His ‘call’ is summoning them (1 Thessalonians 2:12, 2 Thessalonians 1:5). Any failure in this can only be due to themselves, and not to God, for He is ‘faithful’ to accomplish the work which He Himself has begun (1 Thessalonians 5:24; cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:3), and it is ‘in the very presence of God’—before His all-seeing and all-searching eye—an emphatic phrase used nowhere else in the Pauline Epistles (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10),—that the highest human hopes are consummated (1 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 3:9; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:19).
It is very noticeable too as showing the nature of the conception which St Paul had already formed of the Deity, that frequently in these his oldest extant epistles he describes God as ‘Father,’ and that too in a way to suggest that the term was already in general use, and in need of no explanation (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:11; 1 Thessalonians 3:13, 2 Thessalonians 1:1 f., 2:16). Not only does he thereby forge a fresh link between his own teaching and the teaching of Jesus (cf. p. 59 ff.), but, by the manner in which he associates the Father with the glorified Lord, he takes what has been called ‘the first decisive step’ towards the later Christian doctrine of the Trinity.
3. Nothing indeed can exceed the exalted place assigned to the Person of Christ even in these markedly monotheistic writings. For though, in accordance with general Pauline practice, He is only once directly spoken of as the ‘Son’ of God, He is united with the Father in a manner which leaves no doubt as to the essential equality which the writer regards as subsisting between them. It is ‘in the Lord Jesus Christ’ as well as ‘in God the Father’ that the Church’s life consists (1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:1; cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:14): to both Father and Son (1 Thessalonians 3:11) and even to Son and Father (2 Thessalonians 2:16 f.), followed by a verb in the singular, that the missionaries address their prayers: and from Both that the highest blessing proceeds (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:28, 2 Thessalonians 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 3:18).
The fact too that Christ, even when standing alone, should be regarded as the immediate Author of His people’s spiritual growth and establishment in holiness in view of His Second Coming is most significant, especially when taken along with the part assigned to Him at that Coming. For though Christ is never directly spoken of as Judge in our Epistles, and the final issues are ascribed to God (2 Thessalonians 2:11 f.) in accordance with the general Jewish belief of the time, it is clearly implied that in the work of Judgment the Son also will have a part (1 Thessalonians 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:2 f., 2 Thessalonians 1:7 f., 2:8). In this connexion, as constantly elsewhere throughout the Epistles, He is described as
Other evidence, pointing in the same direction, is to be found in the facts that it is from Christ, no less than from God, that the Apostles claim to have derived their commission (1 Thessalonians 2:7; cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:12), and ‘through the Lord Jesus’ that they enforce their charges (1 Thessalonians 4:1 f.; cf. 5:27, 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:12), while the Thessalonians’ prayers are specially asked that ‘the word of the Lord’ Jesus may ‘spread rapidly, and be received everywhere with honour’ (2 Thessalonians 3:1).
4. This living activity which the power of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13), or of Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:8, 2 Thessalonians 3:1), can alone impart to the Word is no less clearly marked in connexion with the part assigned to the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, as when the Spirit is made the ground of the ‘much assurance’ in which the Thessalonians had received the Apostolic Gospel (1 Thessalonians 1:5), of the ‘joy’ which, notwithstanding much affliction, they had been enabled to display (1 Thessalonians 1:6), and of those charismatic gifts and utterances which, in view of recent abuses, they were at the moment in danger of despising (1 Thessalonians 5:19 f.).
On the other hand, to fall into sins of uncleanness was to reject ‘the God,’ Whose gift the indwelling Spirit was (1 Thessalonians 4:7 f.), and to come short of that complete sanctification which was the Spirit’s peculiar work (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
5. When we pass to the region of Soteriology, it is certainly somewhat surprising at first sight to discover that the great doctrine of redemption through the Death of Christ is only once mentioned, and then in the most general way (1 Thessalonians 5:10). At the same time, if only from what St Paul himself tells us regarding his contemporary preaching at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:17 ff; 1 Corinthians 2:1 f.), it is clear that this truth was already fully present to the Apostle’s own mind, and had been previously proclaimed and accepted at Thessalonica. Else what meaning could his readers have attached to the indirect but significant allusion to Jesus as ‘the Rescuer’ out of the coming Wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10), or to the definition of the Christian Faith as rooted in the historic facts of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:14)?
If too the other great Pauline soteriological doctrine of the union of believers with Christ is not stated here with the same precision that we find in some of the later Epistles, it is certainly implied, as, for example, in the description of the ‘Church of the Thessalonians (which is) … in the Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:1), or in the emphatic manner in which ‘life with Christ’ is shown to be the result of the believer’s redemption (1 Thessalonians 5:10,
6. It is from this latter point of view indeed, as a prize awaiting the believer in the future, that the ‘obtaining of salvation’ is principally viewed in our Epistles (1 Thessalonians 5:9, 2 Thessalonians 2:14). The whole outlook is eschatological: and the definite announcement of the Parousia of the Lord roundsoff each step in the Apostolic argument (1 Thessalonians 2:19; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:1 ff.).
Nor can there be any doubt that, in common with all the other Apostolic writers, St Paul regards this Parousia as close at hand (1 Thessalonians 4:15), though at the same time he is careful to emphasize that the main fact regarding it is that it will be unexpected (1 Thessalonians 5:1), and even in his second letter, in entire keeping with the want of system which distinguishes so much of his eschatology both here and elsewhere, the Apostle finds room for a parousia of Anti-Christ—a supreme manifestation of the power of evil then at work in the world—by which the Parousia of the Christ will be preceded (2 Thessalonians 2:3 ff.).
Upon the significance of this picture of ‘wickedness incarnate’ it will be necessary to dwell at length later. In the meantime it is sufficient to notice that final and complete victory rests with the returning Lord. As He descends from heaven accompanied by His ministering angels (2 Thessalonians 1:7, cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:13), He is met by His risen and living saints (1 Thessalonians 4:16 f.): they enter into ‘rest’ (2 Thessalonians 1:7), and ‘eternal destruction’ falls upon the ungodly (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
It is only natural that in depicting the events of that Great Day St Paul should avail himself freely of the figurative language borrowed from the Old Testament, and the later apocalyptic writings of the Jews. But this only serves to set in bolder relief the generally spiritual character of his conception, and the ‘fine tact’ which enabled him to adapt all that was best in the thought of his time for Christian service. His whole interest in the Parousia proceeds along ‘redemptive’ lines, and his main concern for his converts is that, having found complete deliverance in Jesus now, they will be lifted out of the reach of future judgment (1 Thessalonians 1:10), and so enjoy that uninterrupted ‘life’ which, as we have already seen, he regards as the peculiar possession of Christ’s people (1 Thessalonians 5:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:17).
7. Hence, to pass to a last point, the emphasis laid throughout on the moral conditions through which alone this ‘life’ can be reached or enjoyed. St Paul knows nothing of the etude divorce between religion and morality, which is sometimes so strangely attributed to him: his whole attitude is rather ‘a shout of triumph’ as to the reality of the alliance existing between them. It is not the mere ‘word of hearing’ that constitutes ‘the believer,’ but the word ‘doing its work’ within the heart (1 Thessalonians 2:13). And, as it is from the personal relation of the soul to God, that the necessary pleasing of God can alone spring (1 Thessalonians 4:1; cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:14 f.), so, on the other hand, where God teaches, practice must inevitably follow (1 Thessalonians 4:9 f., note the emphatic
6. The Authenticity and Integrity of the Epistles
Hitherto we have been assuming the authenticity of the Epistles to the Thessalonians in accordance with tradition and the general verdict of the whole Christian Church up to a comparatively recent period. Nor, so far as we have come, have we discovered anything in the Epistles themselves to throw serious doubt on this conclusion. At the same time it is impossible any longer to ignore that it is now frequently challenged, more particularly with regard to the Second Epistle. And though many of the points raised are dependent on the exact interpretation of various words and phrases to which we have still to turn, it may be well in the meantime to set forth the external evidence on which the claims of both Epistles to genuineness rest, and to examine as far as possible the principal objections that have been brought against them. For this purpose it will be necessary to treat them separately.
1. The Authenticity and Integrity of 1 Thessalonians
1. The external evidence in favour of 1 Thessaloniaus is not so strong as we might have expected, nor can it be carried back to such an early date as in the case of many of the other N.T. writings. Thus, though there is a certain resemblance between its eschatological teaching and the Didache, it is by no means clear that the writer of the latter actually used it. Nor do the frequently-cited passages from the Apostolic Fathers amount to much, though two passages in Ignatius, and one in the Shepherd of Hermas may perhaps be taken as showing acquaintance with its contents. Much more important testimony in its favour is the fact that it is contained in the Canon of Marcion (c. 140 a.d.), and in the Syriac Vulgate and Old Latin Versions. In the Muratorian Fragment on the Canon (c. 170 a.d.) it is placed sixth in the list of St Paul’s Epistles. Irenaeus (c. 180 a.d.) is, so far as we know, the first writer to quote it by name.
For a possible reminiscence of 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 in Didache 16:6 f. see the note on 4:16. The passages from Ignatius are Romans 2:1
It is not necessary to carry the evidence further down, for, apart from the frequent references to the Epistles which are to be found in the writings of the Fathers from Irenaeus onwards (see small print above) the very existence of 2 Thessalonians, whatever its exact date, implies the recognition of the Pauline authorship of the First Epistle at a very early period in the history of the Church—a recognition moreover which it continued uninterruptedly to enjoy until the middle of last century.
2. The first to raise doubts regarding it was Schrader (Der Apostel Paulus, Leipzig 1836), who proceeded on purely subjective grounds. And in this he was followed by F. C. Baur, who developed the attack against both Epistles with great vigour in his Paulus, der Apostel Jesu Christi (Stuttgart 1845, Eng. Tr. 2 vols., London, 1873–75). Baur indeed afterwards saw reason to modify his views regarding the relation of the two Epistles (in the Theol. Jahrbücher, 14. 1855, p. 141 ff., see his Paul, Eng. Tr. 2. p. 314 ff.), but the objections which he originally raised may still be said to form the principal storehouse from which arguments against the authenticity of the First Epistle are drawn, and on that account deserve mention.
In themselves they are of a somewhat varied character, and embrace such points as the meagreness of the Epistle’s contents, and their close dependence on the narrative in Acts, the striking similarity to the Corinthian Epistles in thought and language, the un-Pauline character of such passages as 2:14 ff., 4:14 ff., and the traces of a later date implied in the description of the Thessalonian Church.
If, however, the view that has already been taken of the circumstances attending the writing of the Epistle is correct (p. 31 ff.), none of these objections should cause much difficulty. What more natural, for example, than that, writing as he did to vindicate his own and his companions’ character, St Paul should dwell at considerable length on the nature of their ministry at Thessalonica? And if general agreement in historical details with St Luke’s account is only what we would then look for, the no less striking apparent divergences (cf. pp. 27, 30) are in themselves strong proof that we have the work not of a mere imitator, but rather of an independent and more fully informed narrator. Nor are the frequent resemblances to the Corinthian Epistles to be wondered at, when we remember the short interval of time that elapsed between their composition, and the closely similar situations that they were designed to meet. The violent polemic against the Jews (2:14 ff.) is no doubt startling in view of the Apostle’s general attitude towards his fellow-countrymen, but it may be sufficiently accounted for by the strenuous opposition which at the time they were offering to him in his work (note the pres. participles
There seems to be nothing therefore in these objections to cause any serious difficulty. And even if they were much stronger than they are, they would be more than counterbalanced by the tone and character of the Epistle as a whole. There is an unmistakable ring of reality about its more personal passages, a revelation alike of writer and readers, to which no imitator could ever have attained. Nor again is it possible to conceive how any one writing after what had come to be regarded as the distinctive truths of Paulinism were widely known could so skilfully have avoided their introduction into a letter purporting to be written by the Apostle. Only in such an actual historical situation as we have tried to depict is an adequate explanation of the Epistle’s raison d’être forthcoming. And only in St Paul himself can we find a writer who could have succeeded in so impressing his personality upon what he wrote, combined with the freedom in thought and expression which in themselves are so distinctive of an original author. Is it likely too that any one writing long after the expectation had been falsified would have endangered his credibility by ascribing to St Paul language, which certainly on the face of it implies that the writer looked for the Parousia during his own lifetime (4:15)?
3. It is only therefore what we should expect, when we find that the claims of 1 Thessalonians to be regarded as an authentic work of the Apostle Paul are now freely admitted by practically all N.T. scholars of importance, its opponents being limited to those who deny the genuineness of all the Pauline Epistles.
Nor, apart from the wider question of its authenticity, does there seem any good ground for doubting the general integrity of the Epistle in the form in which it has come down to us. Schmiedel indeed suggests that 2:15 f. is an interpolation, and others, who accept the passage as a whole, are inclined to throw doubt on the last clause of v. 16 as possibly an ‘editorial comment,’ added after the destruction of Jerusalem had taken place. But for neither position is there any real warrant (see notes ad loca); while 5:27, which has also been suspected, is, whatever the exact interpretation given to it, in thorough accord with the strained and anxious mood, through which at the time the Apostle was passing (p. 31 ff.).
2. The Authenticity and Integrity of 2 Thessalonians
On the other hand the authenticity and integrity of 2 Thessalonians stand on a different footing, and raise questions of a more difficult character. And, that being so, it is satisfactory to find that the external evidence on its behalf is both earlier and fuller than in the case of the First Epistle.
1. Thus, leaving aside possible references in the Didache and Ignatius, there are two passages in Polycarp both of which appear to have this Epistle directly in view. It is true that in the first the writer supposes himself to be quoting words originally addressed to the Philippians, but the words (see below) are only found in 2 Thessalonians, and Polycarp may easily have confused between the two Macedonian Churches, or possibly in view of their vicinity have looked upon Philippi and Thessalonica as forming in reality one community. In the second, it is hardly possible to doubt that he is consciously adapting a passage of 2 Thessalonians for his purpose, though unfortunately here, as in the foregoing passage, the Greek original is lost. Coming further down we find the Epistle again vouched for in the Canon of Marcion, in the Syriac Vulgate and Old Latin Versions, and in the Muratorian Fragment, while the references to it in early Christian literature are both numerous and clear. Thus there seems an obvious reference to its principal eschatological passage in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho, and an interesting passage in the Epistle Vienne and Lyons points even more strongly in the same direction. Irenaeus is again the first to mention it directly by name.
With 3:8 ff. cf. Didache 12:3, and with 2:3 ff. cf. Didache 16:6 ff. The passage from Ignatius is Romans 10:3
2. On external grounds then the Epistle is amply vouched for, but the internal difficulties are here of a much more serious character than in the case of 1 Thessalonians, and have in recent years been presented with a skill and force that make the question of the Epistle’s authenticity one of the most interesting and keenly debated points in modern N.T. criticism.
The attack was started by J. E. Ch. Schmidt (in his Bibliothek f. Kritik und Exegese des N.T. Hadamar 1801, and then in his Einleit. in das N.T. Giessen 1804), and his objections were revived by de Wette in the earlier editions of his Lehrbuch der histor.-krit. Einleit. in die kanonischen Bücher des N.T., but afterwards abandoned in the fourth edition (1842), and in his Exegetisches Handbuch (1841) where the Epistle’s authenticity is fully recognized. Meanwhile, however, doubts had again been raised by Kern (Tübing. Zeitschr. f. Theol. 2:1839) who was closely followed by Baur (Paulus, 1845), both writers seeing in the Epistle a fictitious writing, dependent on the Apocalypse, and containing features borrowed from the person and history of Nero: while Hilgenfeld (Einl. in d. N.T. 1875, p. 642 ff.) went further, carrying its composition as far down as Trajan’s time, a position with which in the main Bahnsen (Jahrb. f. protest. Theol. 1880, p. 681 ff.) agreed.
Others in more recent times who have denied the Epistle’s authenticity are Weizsäcker, Pfleiderer, Schmiedel, Holtzmann, and Wrede, and, in part, P. W. Schmidt and Dr Samuel Davidson. On the other hand it has gained the support of Harnack, Jülicher, and Clemen, has been vigorously defended by Zahn, and is now treated as genuine by the great majority of commentators in Germany, including its latest expositors Bornemann and Wohlenberg, as well as by the general consensus of N.T. scholarship both in this country and America.
It cannot be denied however that many who support this conclusion do so with a certain amount of hesitation, and only because of the still greater difficulties attending any rival theory. And it may be well therefore to subject the more important arguments that have been urged against the Epistle to a fresh examination with the view of seeing how far they are really well-grounded. In the main they are derived from (1) its language and style, (2) its literary relationship to 1 Thessalonians, and (3) the character of its doctrinal contents.
(1) In itself the vocabulary of the Epistle is by no means remarkable. The words peculiar to it among N.T. writings number only 10, as compared with 17 in 1 Thessalonians, nor do any of them cause any real difficulty (cf. p. 53). And this is the more noteworthy when we remember the unique character of some of its apocalyptic passages, and the marked tendency observable in other of the N.T. writings towards diversity of language and style in dealing with similar topics.
But while the vocabulary is thus in the main genuinely Pauline, various words and phrases are often pointed to as used in an un-Pauline manner.
Thus it is said that in 1:11 (
The same might be said of the variation that appears in certain familiar formulas or phrases between our Epistle and 1 Thessalonians, even if other explanations of the changes were not forthcoming. Thus in the opening thanksgiving, when instead of the simple
Other examples of so-called inconsistencies with the language of the first Epistle hardly need to be mentioned. When hostile criticism has to fall back on minutiae such as these, unless they are supported by other and stronger evidence than any we have yet discovered, that is in itself a confession of the insufficiency of its case. And it will be generally conceded that this Epistle, taken as a whole, so far as its language and style are concerned, leaves upon the mind of any unbiassed reader the impression of a genuinely Pauline work. For not only are there abundant traces of the Apostle’s characteristic phraseology and manner, as has been clearly shown by Dr Jowett and others, but the whole Epistle reflects that indefinable original atmosphere which a great writer imparts to his work, and which, in this instance, we are accustomed to associate with the name of St Paul.
(2) On the other hand, the very closeness of our Epistle’s resemblance to 1 Thessalonians has been made the ground of a second objection to its authenticity. For the literary dependence between the two Epistles has been declared to be of such a character that the question comes to be not, ‘Could one man have written both Epistles?’ but, ‘Is it likely that one man writing to the same people at what must have been a very short interval of time would repeat himself to so large an extent? Or, even if this is conceivable under certain circumstances, is it likely in the case of a writer so richly endowed and so fertile in thought as the Apostle Paul?’
The first to raise this difficulty pointedly was Weizsäcker, and his arguments have recently been strongly emphasized by H. Holtzmannand W. Wrede. And the objection is at least an interesting one, for, when taken in conjunction with other peculiarities of the Epistle, it lends itself very easily to the idea of an imitator or forger, who, in order to gain credence for certain views he wished to express, encased them, so to speak, in the framework of a generally accepted Pauline Epistle. To this supposition we shall have to return later, but in the meantime before expressing any opinion upon it, we must notice clearly how far the resemblances between the two Epistles really extend.
Both Epistles begin with a salutation in almost identical terms, and marked by a form of address which the Apostle does not employ again (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-2).
This is followed by the customary thanksgiving, expressed again in a way found nowhere else in St Paul, and based on practically the same grounds as regards the Thessalonians’ state (1 Thessalonians 1 : ff.; 2 Thessalonians 1:3 f.).
A section follows in the main peculiar in thought to the Second Epistle (1:5–12), but exhibiting many parallels of language with the First, while the transition to the great revelation of chap. 2. is marked by a form of appeal (
The revelation referred to—the section regarding the Man of lawlessness, 2:1–12—stands so entirely by itself as regards contents, that it is frequently spoken of as constituting the raison d’être of the whole Epistle. But, apart from other Pauline peculiarities of language which it exhibits, it is interesting to notice in connexion with the point before us, that we find here the same reminiscences by the writer of a visit to his readers, and of what he had said when with them, that we have already met in 1 Thessalonians (2:5
No sooner, moreover, has the writer of the Second Epistle finished this, his main theme, than he utters a fervid thanks-giving and prayer for his readers (2:13 f.), after the manner of 1 Thessalonians 2:13, in which several of the characteristic words and phrases scattered through the First Epistle are re-echoed.
Similar resemblances may also be traced in the exhortation that follows to stand firm and to hold fast the traditions they have been taught (2:15; 1 Thessalonians 4:1), and more especially in the remarkable invocation of 2:16, which corresponds both in form and place with 1 Thessalonians 3:11, though there, in accordance with the usual practice,
The closing section 3:6–15, like the closing section 1 Thessalonians 5:1 ff., is occupied with a practical exhortation, which in the main follows independent lines, though we are again struck with the recurrence here of various turns of expression and thought with which the First Epistle has already made us familiar—such as the warning against disorderly walking (3:6, 3:7, 3:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:14); the call to imitate the writer’s mode of life (3:7, 3:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:6 f.); and the reference to the Apostle’s labouring night and day that they might not prove themselves burdensome to their converts (3:8; 1 Thessalonians 2:9), to which the Second Epistle adds the further thought of providing an example to the restless and idle (3:9).
Both Epistles end with an invocation to ‘the Lord (God, 1 Thess.) of peace,’ and with the customary Pauline benediction (2 Thessalonians 3:16; 2 Thessalonians 3:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 1 Thessalonians 5:28).
The resemblances between the two writings are thus very striking, and justice can hardly be said to have been done to them as a rule by the upholders of the Pauline authorship of the Second Epistle. At the same time, care must be taken that they are not pressed too far. Even our brief review has indicated what an examination of Wrede’s carefully prepared Tables makes still more evident, that at most the parallelism between the two Epistles cannot be said to extend to more than one-third of their whole contents. And from this, again, there fall to be deducted such points of contact as are afforded by the salutation at the beginning, the benediction at the close, the phrases of transition from one subject to another, and similar formal expressions, where a close resemblance of language is not only natural but probable.
Nor must it be forgotten that even where certain sections of the Second Epistle correspond in their general contents to certain sections of the First, the actual parallelisms in language are by no means always found within these corresponding sections, but have frequently to be drawn from the two Epistles as wholes. And not only so, but they often occur in such different connexions as to suggest not so much the slavish copying by one man of another, as rather the free handling by the same writer of certain familiar words and phrases.
The same may be said of the differences of tone, combined with the similarities of expression, between the two Epistles of which certain critics have made so much. It is quite true that in certain particulars the general tone of Second Thessalonians is more official and severe than the tone of First Thessalonians, though warm and personal passages are not wanting (e.g., 1:11, 2:16 f., 3:3–5), and that at places the writer seems in difficulties as regards both his language and his grammar.
But while these facts, taken by themselves, might be evidence of a later writer clumsily imitating another man’s work, they may be equally well accounted for by a change in the mood of the same writer, and in the circumstances of those to whom he writes.
St Paul was, we know, subject to great alternations of feeling, and when he wrote 2 Thessalonians, not only was he no longer under the influence of the same glad rebound from anxiety regarding the Thessalonians’ state that he experienced when he wrote his First Epistle, but there is also evidence that at the time he was personally much harassed by ‘unreasonable and evil men’ at Corinth (3:2; Acts 18:12 ff.). Moreover, as regards the recipients of the letter, there are undoubted traces in the Second Epistle that, between the time of its writing and the writing of the First, St Paul had heard of an increasing restlessness among his converts—a business which was no business (
Nor is it quite fair, as is generally done by those who lay stress on the closeness of the literary dependence between the two Thessalonian Epistles, to speak of it as without a parallel in early Christian literature. For, to those who admit their authenticity, we have within the circle of the Pauline Epistles themselves the kindred Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, exhibiting an identity of thought and language, such as to make them, notwithstanding their admitted differences in aim, almost duplicates of each other. And if St Paul could thus repeat himself in two contemporary Epistles, addressed if not to the same Church at least to the same district, why should not a like similarity run through two other Epistles, written at an interval according to the traditional view of at most a few months, and dealing with a situation which, if differing in certain particulars, was in the main unchanged (cf. p. 56 n.)?
A further effort to explain the extent of the resemblances between the two Epistles has also been made by the suggestion that St Paul had re-read the First immediately before writing the Second Epistle, or more precisely that he had in his hands the rough draft which his amanuensis had prepared of his first letter—a clean copy having been despatched to Thessalonica—and that he drew freely from it in dictating the terms of the second letter.
One cannot say that this is impossible, and there would certainly be nothing according to the literary canons of the time to prevent a writer thus freely borrowing from his own previous work. But the very ingenuity of the suggestion is against it, and presupposes that the Apostle attached a greater importance to his own writings than their strictly occasional character warrants.
It is safer therefore to be content with such general explanations as have already been offered, or frankly to admit that the resemblances between the two Epistles constitute an interesting but, in our present state of ignorance regarding the exact circumstances of their writing, an insoluble literary problem. This however in no way militates against the Pauline authorship of the Second, unless other and more definite grounds for disputing it can be produced.
(3) Such grounds, it is said, are to be found in the Epistle’s doctrinal contents, as being, in the first place, inconsistent with the clear teaching of 1 Thessalonians, and, in the second, in themselves of such a character, that it is not possible to think of St Paul’s having written them.
(a) As regards the charge of inconsistency with 1 Thessalonians, that rests in the main on an alleged change of attitude with reference to the nearness of the Parousia. In 1 Thessalonians the Parousia is represented as close at hand, and there is no mention of any sign by which it is to be preceded; but in 2 Thessalonians we are distinctly told that it will not take place until the Man of lawlessness has been revealed.
To this it is generally replied that the two pictures are not really inconsistent, and that while there is nothing in the teaching regarding the Parousia in 1 Thessalonians to exclude the prior coming of the Man of lawlessness, there is equally nothing in his coming as depicted in the Second Epistle to delay unduly the expected Parousia of the First: all that is said is that Christ will not come just yet.
But while there is undoubted force in this—and parallels for the conjunction of the two views, or rather for the two aspects of the same truth may be cited from our Lord’s eschatological discourse (Matthew 24:29 ff.), and from the Apocalypse of St John (Revelation 3:1 ff; Revelation 6:1 ff.)—it is better not to attempt to reconcile the two positions too literally. There are many indications that St Paul’s eschatological views were at this time in a state of flux, and that his teaching concerning the Last Things was determined by practical and not theological motives, without much regard as to how far that teaching presented a consistent whole. And it may well have been that in the short time that had elapsed between the writing of 1 and 2 Thessalonians he had heard of circumstances in his converts state, which led him to emphasize afresh an aspect of the Parousia, on which he had dwelt when in Thessalonica (2:5), but of which they had apparently lost sight, and which may also have gained a new significance in his own mind.
(b) Even, however, if the point be thus turned against the charge of inconsistency, the question still remains whether it is at all likely that St Paul, supposing him to have been the writer, would have so far departed from his general mode of thought in this particular passage, 2:1–12. In none of his other New Testament writings do we find him laying stress on the ‘signs’ preceding the end; nor does the person of Antichrist, with whom in general his conception corresponds, though the actual name is not used, again appear in his Epistles except in the incidental notice of 2 Corinthians 6:15 (
Of course if the historical situation lying at the background of this teaching is to be sought in the antinomian Gnostic heresies of the second century, as Hilgenfeld, Bahnsen and Pfleiderer have from various points of view maintained, or even in the popular legend of Nero redivivus, which has been widely believed from Kern and Baur down to P. Schmidt and Schmiedel, the Pauline authorship of the Epistle at once falls to the ground.
But, as has already been indicated, the doctrine of Antichrist did not come into existence with Montanism, but was firmly rooted in Jewish soft even before the Christian era; while, as regards the Nero-hypothesis, the recent researches of Gunkel, Bousset, and Charleshave made clear that it was at a much later date than the interests of this theory require, that those traits belonging to Antichrist were transferred to Nero, which alone could make him a fitting basis for the Pauline conception.
Nor can this conception be derived from the Johannine Apocalypse, as was at one time freely held. It is now very generally admitted by critics of all schools that the ‘hindrance’ to the Man of lawlessness, of which the writer speaks, is to be found in the influence of the Roman Government, in perfect keeping with such later Pauline passages as Romans 13:1-7. But if so, it will be at once recognized how wholly different this is from the description of Rome given in the Apocalypse, drunk with ‘the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all that have been slain upon the earth’ (Revelation 18:24; cf. (Revelation 6:9 ff., (Revelation 7:14, (Revelation 14:8, (Revelation 16:19).
The whole conception indeed, as it meets us here, is purely religious, not political, and it is in the Old Testament, in the teaching of Jesus, and, more particularly as regards form, in certain Jewish apocalyptic beliefs, that its roots are to be found (see further Add. Note 1, p. 158 ff.).
Further than this it is impossible to go at present without entering on many of the vexed questions of interpretation which the passage raises. But if what has just been said is correct, it will be seen that, obscure though the passage undoubtedly is, there is still nothing in it to make its Pauline authorship impossible, or even improbable; while its genuine Pauline style, and its natural place in the argument of the Epistle, are strong evidence in favour of the traditional view.
3. In this general conclusion we are confirmed by the unsatisfactory and conflicting nature of the rival theories which are offered of the origin and intention of 2 Thessalonians by those who deny its authenticity—theories which land us in greater difficulties than any they serve to remove. Incidental notice has been taken of some of these theories already, but there are three in particular which call for further remark.
(1) There is, in the first place, the theory of Interpolation, which has been so frequently resorted to lately to explain, or explain away, difficulties in New Testament interpretation, and which in the present instance has at least this in its favour, that we have abundant signs of its presence in the apocalyptic literature of the period. May it not then have been at work here?
May not, as P. Schmidt suggests, 1:1–14, 2:1, 2:2, 2:13–18 have formed a true Pauline Epistle, into which a later writer interpolated the two passages which have caused most difficulty, 1:5–12 and 2:1–12?
But apart altogether from the arbitrariness of any such theory, and the total absence of ms. evidence in support of it, the result is to leave a letter so shorn of all its distinctive features that it is difficult to see how St Paul could ever have thought of writing it. And further, a careful study of the Epistle as a whole shows that these two sections are so closely related both to what immediately precedes, and to what follows, that they cannot be separated from them without violence.
(2) Of greater interest is the view which Spitta develops in a striking study on the Epistle contained in his Zur Geschichte und Litteratur des Urchristentums 1. p. 111 ff. Starting from the ‘inferiority’ of the Second Epistle to the First, he holds that, with the exception of the authenticating paragraph at the end (3:17, 3:18), it is the work not of St Paul, but of Timothy. And in this way he thinks that he finds an adequate explanation both of its generally Pauline character and of its peculiarities—of the former, because it was written by Timothy in close correspondence with St Paul and by his commission: of the latter, because the Jewish cast of its apocalyptic passages is in thorough harmony with what we learn elsewhere regarding Timothy’s Jewish upbringing (Acts 16:1, 2 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 3:14 f.).
But, to take the last point first, was Timothy after all more of a Jew than St Paul? And difficult though it may be to reconcile on paper the attitude towards the Jews which underlies 2:1–2 with that afterwards elaborated in Romans 11., Dr Moffatt properly insists that ‘it would be psychologically false to deny the compatibility of both positions at different periods within a single personality.’ By the time Romans 11. came to be written, the Apostle was ‘more dispassionate and patriotic,’ or rather had attained to wider views of the possibilities God had in store for the chosen people.
It is in the want, however, of any satisfactory direct evidence in support of it that the real weakness of Spitta’s theory may be seen. For the verse on which he relies so much will certainly not bear the strain put upon it—‘Remember ye not, that when I was yet (
That Timothy may on this occasion have acted as St Paul’s amanuensis is of course possible; and it is perhaps in the thought of a change of amanuensis from (say) Silvanus in the First Epistle that some of our Epistle’s linguistic peculiarities may find an explanation (cf. Add. Note A, p. 125 f.). But this is very different from supposing that Timothy was actually its author, or that the Apostle set his own seal to views with which he was not wholly in agreement, as Spitta’s theory requires.
(3) If then the writer was not St Paul, there is nothing left for us but to fall back upon the suggestion which has been urged from time to time in various forms, that the Epistle is the work of an unknown writer, who, anxious to gain currency for his own views regarding the Last Things, imbedded them in a framework skilfully drawn from St Paul’s genuine Epistle.
We have seen already the objections attending any such theory, in so far as it is connected with a definite historical situation such as the expected return of Nero. But apart altogether from such considerations, is it likely that a fictitious Epistle addressed on this showing to a Church which had already an authentic Epistle of St Paul’s, and in which many of the original recipients may well have been alive, would ever have gained currency as the Apostle’s?
So strongly does Wrede, the latest exponent of the theory, feel this that he suggests that the Epistle was never intended for Thessalonica at all, but that the unknown writer simply made a general use of 1 Thessalonians, as, owing to its apocalyptic character, best serving the purpose he had in view (pp. 38 ff., 68). So that it comes to this: That this Epistle, so amply vouched for in antiquity, is nothing but a barefaced forgery—written in the name of St Paul by one who was not St Paul—invested with the authority of the Apostle, though designed to correct views currently attributed to the Apostle—and addressed to the Church of Thessalonica, though having another and a very different circle of readers in view. Surely there are more ‘misses’ here than any ‘hits,’ with which, according to the most charitable interpretation of it, the theory can be credited!
Nor does the view of forgery, so improbable in itself, derive any real help from two passages which are often cited in support of it, and as in themselves conclusive against the Epistle’s genuineness.
The first of these is 2:2: ‘To the end that ye be not readily shaken from your reason, nor yet be disturbed either by spirit, or by word, or by epistle as from us, as if the day of the Lord is now present.’ But even if the difficult clause,
The same may be said of 3:17: ‘The salutation of me Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write.’ The particular form of authentication used here is unique among the Pauline Epistles; and if it had been
the work of a forger, would he not have been more careful to follow St Paul’s general usage, as it meets us in 1 Corinthians 16:21, or Colossians 4:18? ‘But if Paul wrote the words, they express his intention; and this intention was satisfactorily fulfilled if he always added the benediction in his own handwriting.’
(4) On the whole then, without any desire to minimize the difficulties surrounding the literary character and much of the contents of this remarkable Epistle, there seems to be nothing in them to throw undue suspicion on its genuineness; while the failure of those who reject it to present any adequate explanation of how it arose, or of the authority it undoubtedly possessed in the Early Church, is in itself strong presumptive evidence that the traditional view is correct, and that we have here an authentic work of the Apostle Paul.
7. Authorities for the Text
The text adopted for the following commentary is the Greek text of Westcott and Hort: it approximates therefore closely to the type of text represented by à
1. Greek mss.
The text is contained in whole, or in part, in the following mss.
A. Codex Alexandrinus, saec. 5. Originally at Alexandria. Presented by Cyril Lucar, Patriarch of Constantinople, to Charles 1. in 1628, and deposited in the British Museum in 1753. Issued in autotype facsimile by E. M. Thompson, London, 1879.
According to von Soden (Die Schriften des N.T. 1. p. 44) there are now about 630 cursive mss. available for the Pauline Epistles. The following are a few of the most important.
4** (= Acts 4): saec. 15, now in Basle, Univ. A.N. 4:5.
6 (= Gosp. 6, Acts 6): saec. 11, in Paris, Bibl. Nat. Gr. 112.
17 (= Gosp. 33, Acts 13): saec. 11, in Paris, Bibl. Nat. Gr. 14. Deserves special notice (Hort, Intr. § 212).
23: a.d. 1056, in Paris, Bibl. Nat. Coisl. Gr. 28.
31 (= Acts 25, Revelation 7): a.d. 1087, in London, Brit. Mus. Harl. 5537.
37 (= Gosp. 69, Acts 31, Revelation 14): saec. 15, in Leicester, Library of the Town Council. ‘Has many Non-Alexandrian, Pre-Syrian readings of both kinds’ (Hort, Intr. § 212). For the history of this interesting ms. see Scrivener, Codex Augiensis (Cambridge, 1859), Introd. p. 40 ff. and Appendix, J. Rendel Harris, Origin of the Leicester Codex (Cambridge, 1887).
47: saec. 11, in Oxford, Bodl. Roe 16.
67 (= Acts 66, Apoc. 34): saec. 11, in Vienna, Imp. Gr. th. 302.
67**: very ancient readings in the margins of 67, which have no other cursive attestation. Hort (Intr. § 212) regards them as akin to M, though they cannot have been derived from the text of M itself.
71: saec. 12, in Vienna, Imp. Gr. th. 61.
73 (= Acts 68): saec. 13, in Upsala, Univ. ms. Gr. 1.
116 (= Acts 101): saec. 13, in Moscow, Syn. 333.
137 (= Gosp. 263, Acts 117): saec. 13, in Paris, Nat. Gr. 61*.
154 (= Acts 126): saec. 11, in Paris, Nat. Gr. 217.
For Athos, Laura 184 b. 64 (saec. 10) =
The ancient Versions are as follows.
(1) Old Latin (Lat Vet Vg or O.L.). The history of the Old Latin version (or versions) is still involved in many perplexities: it must be sufficient to refer here to the exhaustive art. by Dr H. A. A. Kennedy in Hastings’ D.B. 3. p. 47 ff., where Antioch is suggested as its original home. Mr C. H. Turner and Prof. Sourer, on the other hand, are emphatic for Rome, while the majority of modern critics may be said to favour the theory of an African origin. The extant fragments of the version have been collected by the Benedictine, P. Sabatier, in his monumental work Bibliorum sacrorum latinae versiones seu vetus Italica (Rheims, 1739–49). See also L. Ziegler, Die lateinischen Bibelübersetzungen vor Hieronymus, Munich, 1879.
The following authorities for the Pauline Epistles have been cited.
d: Latin version of D (Cod. Claromontanus). ‘The genuine Old Latin character of the text is indicated by its frequent agreement with the quotations of Lucifer of Cagliari († 370)’ (F. C. Burkitt, Encyc. Bibl. col. 4995).
f: Latin version of F (Cod. Augiensis).
g: Latin version of G (Cod. Boernerianus).
m: the so-called Speculum, a treatise falsely assigned to St Augustine, which contains extracts from a Spanish text, akin to the Bible used by Priscillian (see Hort as quoted in Gregory, Textkritik des Neuen Testamentes (1902), 2. p. 606). Ed. by Weihrich in Vienna Corpus script, eccles. Lat. 12. 1887.
r: A fragment, belonging to the seventh century, preserved at Munich. Contains 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10.
(2) Vulgate (Vg). A revision by Jerome of the Old Latin to bring it closer to the Greek text he possessed (‘Graecae fidei auctoritati reddidi Novum Testamentum’). The authoritative edition of the Roman Church, issued by Clement 8. in 1592, has been reprinted by Nestle (Stuttgart, 1906) in a very convenient form with a carefully selected apparatus. The great critical edition of the N.T., which is being prepared by Bishop J. Wordsworth and the Rev. H. J. White has not yet advanced beyond the Acts (Oxford, 1889—).
The readingsof the Vulgate mss. (Vg) will be found (partly) in Nestle, and more fully detailed in Tischendorf.
There is naturally no translation of the Bible which has more interest for us than the Syriac, though we must be careful not to identify this dialect of the Euphrates valley with the Aramaic spoken by our Lord: see especially Burkitt, Evangelion da Mepharreshe, vol. 2. (Cambridge, 1904). The history of its various versions, and of the vexed questions raised by them, is fully discussed in the same writer’s art. ‘Text and Versions’ in the Encyc. Bibl. col. 4998–5006.
We are here concerned only with two of these versions.
(1) Syr (Pesh) = the Syriac Vulgate or Peshi
(2) Syr (Harcl). A recension made by Thomas of Harkel in 616 of the older Philoxenian version of 508. The text is ‘remarkable for its excessive literalness,’ and follows ‘almost invariably that of the later Greek mss.’ (Burkitt). It is cited by Tischendorf as syr, and is edited by J. White as Versio Syriaca Philoxeniana, Oxford, 1778–1803.
Of great importance are certain readings in the margin of the foregoing version.
(Syr (Harcl mg.)) derived from ‘three (v.l. two) approved and accurate Greek copies’ in the monastery of the Enatonians near Alexandria (Hort, Intr. § 215).
The existing Armenian Vulgate (Arm) is a revision about the middle of the fifth century of certain original translations based upon the Old Syriac (Robinson, Euthaliana, p. 72 ff.). The Greek text used for this revision was apparently closely akin to à
2. Sahidic (Sah = the (Thebaic) WH.). Now believed to be older than the Bohairic version, going back at least to the early part of the fourth century. The N.T. exists only in fragments, which have not yet been collected into a formal edition. [It is understood that G. Horner is preparing one for the Clarendon Press.] Ciasca’s collections have been used in the verification of the citations in the present volume.
Bas = Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, † 379. The Benedictine edition of his works under the care of J. Garnier appeared at Paris, 1721–30.
Chr = John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, † 407. For the various readings contained in mss. of Chrysostom (Chr) see Tischendorf. Collations of these were published by Matthaei in his critical edition of the N.T. (1803–07). See further under List of Commentaries.
Orig = The free Latin version of Origen’s works by Jerome and others.
Ps-Ath = Writings wrongly ascribed to Athanasius, and contained in the Benedictine edition of Athanasius’ works vol. 2.
8. Selected List of Commentaries
1. Greek Writers
(1) Earlier Period.
(2) Later Period.
Oecumenius (Oecum.), Bishop of Tricca in Thessaly. His date is uncertain, but Turner (l.c. p. 523) places the Catena on St Paul as in all probability within the limits 560–640. The original Catena draws largely from Chrysostom, while later recensions embody copious extracts from Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople (c. 820–c. 891). Printed in Migne, P.G. 118.–119.
Theophylact (Thphl.), Archbishop of Achridia (Ochrida) in Bulgaria, c. 1075. His Commentary on the Pauline Epistles follows Chrysostom in the main, but with ‘a certain independence’: ed. A. Lindsell, London, 1636.
Euthymius Zigabenus (Euth. Zig.), a younger contemporary of Theophylact, c. 1115. Ed. Nicolas Kalogeras, late Archbishop of Patras, Athens, 1887.
2. Latin Writers
Ambrosiaster (Ambrstr. or Ambst.). Regarding the identity of the so-called ‘Ambrosiaster’ there has been much difference of opinion, but the view most widely held in the present day is one suggested by the French scholar Dom Morin of Maredsous, Belgium, in the Revue d’Histoire et de Littérature religieuses for 1899, pp. 97–121, that he was Isaac, a converted Jew, who lived in Rome during the pontificate of Damasus (366–384). His Commentary on the Pauline Epistles, from which a complete Old Latin text can be derived, has been pronounced by Jülicher (article ‘Ambrosiaster’ in Pauly-Wissowa’s Real-Encyclopädie) to be the best on St Paul’s Epistles prior to the Reformation, and Harnack (Sitzungsberichte der Kgl. Preuss. Akad. der Wissenschaften, 1903, p. 212) regards it and the Quaestiones Veteris et Novi Testamenti, now assigned to ‘Ambrosiaster,’ though printed amongst the works of St Augustine (e.g. Migne, P. L. 35.), as the greatest literary product of the Latin Church between Cyprian and Jerome. For editions see the note on p. 99.
Pelagius (Pelag.). Amongst the works of Jerome (Migne, P. L. 30. p. 670 ff.) there is a series of commentaries on the Pauline Epistles, which contain some of the quotations which Augustine and Marius Mercator, his contemporaries, make from a commentary of Pelagius († c. 440). The older scholars were divided in opinion on the subject of the Pseudo-Jerome commentary. Some regarded it as the work of Pelagius; others as the commentary of Pelagius after it had been expurgated by Cassiodorus and his pupils. A few years ago Prof. Zimmer of Berlin discovered at St Gall what is a nearer approach to the original commentary than Pseudo-Jerome, but even this form is interpolated. According to Sourer (The Commentary of Pelagius on the Epistles of Paul [London, 1907] p. 15 ff.) the anonymous ms. 119. of the Grand Ducal Library at Karlsruhe (saec. 9) is the only pure copy of Pelagius extant, the Pseudo-Jerome commentary being an expansion of the original Pelagius on the longer epistles. Pending the appearance of his edition, the student is recommended to correct the corrupt text of Migne by the help of the collation of the St Gall ms. in Zimmer’s Pelagius in Irland (Berlin, 1901).
3. Reformation Period
(1) Protestant Writers.
Erasmus, Desiderius († 1536) issued his first edition of the Greek N.T. (ap. Io. Frobenium) at Basle in 1516. It was accompanied by a new Latin translation and annotations. The more popular Paraphrasis in Epp. Pauli omnes appeared a few years later.
Calvin, John († 1564), ‘the greatest of the commentators of the Reformation’ (SH. p. 103.). His Commentarii in omnes epistolas Pauli Apostoli was first published at Strassburg in 1539. The numerous citations in the present work are taken from vol. 6. of Tholuck’s complete edition of the N.T. Commentaries (Berlin, no date).
Beza, Theodore († 1605). Beza’s first edition of the Greek N.T. with translation and annotations was published by H. Stephanus in 1565 (sine loco), and in 1642 a new edition ‘ad quartam (1598) conformata’ was issued from Daniel’s Press at Cambridge. The Bible Society’s convenient reprint (Berlin, 1905) of this Cambridge edition has been followed here.
(2) Roman Catholic Writers.
Estius, W. (Est.), Provost and Chancellor of Douay († 1613) His In omnes beati Pauli … Epistolas commentaria were published after his death (Douay, 1614–16, new ed. Paris, 1672–76). They form ‘a valuable exposition of the Epistles in the Augustinian spirit’ (Reuss).
Cornelius a Lapide († 1637). Commentaria in … omnes d. Pauli epistolas. Antwerp, 1635.
Grotius, H. (De Groot, † 1645), Dutch statesman and theologian. His Annotationes on the whole Bible were first published in his Opp. theol. (Basle, 1732). The Ann. in N.T. appeared separately, Paris, 1641. See also the Critici Sacri.
4. Post-Reformation Period
Bengel, J. A. (Beng.) † 1752. Gnomon Novi Testamenti, Ed. 3 adjuv. J. Steudel, London, 1855.
Wetstein, J. J. († 1754). His edition of the Novum Testamentum Graecum (Amsterdam, 1751–52) is still invaluable for its large collection of illustrations drawn from Jewish, Greek, and Latin sources. A new and revised edition is among the great desiderata for N.T. apparatus.
5. Modern Period
It will be convenient to classify the writers of this Period as (1) German and (2) English, and to arrange the names in each section in alphabetical, rather than in chronological, order.
(1) German Writers.
Bornemann, W.: Die Thessalonicherbriefe in the new edition of Meyer’s Kommentar (Göttingen, 1894)—the fullest modern Commentary on the Epistles, and a great storehouse of materials for all subsequent editors. It has not been translated into English.
De Wette, W. M. L.: Briefe an die Thessalonicher, 3 Aufl. von W. Moeller in Exeg. Handb. zum N.T. 11. 3. Leipzig, 1864.
Goebel, Siegfried: Die Briefe P. an d. Thess. in Neutest. Schriften, 1. pp. 1–37. 2 Aufl. Gotha, 1897. Brief Notes.
Hofmann, J. C. K. von: Thessalonicherbriefe in Die heilige Schrift Neuen Testaments, 1. Nördlingen, 1869.
Koch, A.: Commentar über d. ersten Brief d. Apostels Paulus an d. Thessalonicher. Berlin, 1849.
Lünemann, G.: Die Briefe an d. Thessalonicher in Meyer’s Kommentar. Engl. Tr. by Dr P. J. Gloag from the 3rd German edition. Edinburgh, 1880.
Pelt, L.: Epistolae Pauli Apostoli ad Thessalonicenses. Griefswald, 1830. Rich in patristic references.
Schmidt, P.: Der erste Thessalonicherbrief. Berlin, 1885. A small book of 128 pages, but containing, in addition to a textual commentary, helpful discussions on the language and historical situation of the Epistle, and an excursus on 2 Thess., intended to show that it had been subject to interpolation.
Schmiedel, P. W.: Die Briefe an die Thessalonicher in the Hand-Commentar zum N.T. 11. 1. Freiburg im B., 1891. A marvel of condensation, especially in the very useful Introductions. The authenticity of 2 Thess. is denied.
Schott, H. A.: Epistolae Pauli ad Thessalonicenses et Galatas. Leipzig, 1834.
Weiss, Bernard: Die Paulinische Briefe, 2 Aufl. Leipzig, 1902. A revised Text with brief but suggestive Notes.
Wohlenberg, G.: Der erste und zweite Thessalonicherbrief in Zahn’s Kommentar zum N.T. Leipzig, 1903. The most recent German commentary of importance on the Epistles. The general line of thought is brought out clearly, and there is much valuable lexical material contained in the footnotes, but the Introduction is very brief, and the question of authenticity is practically ignored altogether.
The German translations of Luther (from Theile and Stier’s N.T. Tetraglotton) and Weizsäcker (Das neue Testament übersetzt, 9 Aufl. Tübingen, 1900) have also been frequently cited.
It is understood that Prof. von Dobschütz of Strassburg is preparing still another edition of the Epistles for Meyer’s Kommentar.
(2) English Writers.
Alford, H. (Alf.): The Greek Testament, 3. 2nd ed. London, 1857.
Drummond, James: The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Thessalonians in International Handbooks to the N.T. 2. New York, 1899.
Eadie, John: A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Epistles of Paul to the Thessalonians. London, 1877.
Ellicott, C. J.: St Paul’s Epistles to the Thessalonians, 4th ed. London, 1880. Rich in lexical and grammatical material, with a revised translation and many interesting citations from the old English Versions. There is practically no Introduction.
Findlay, G. G.: The Epistles to the Thessalonians in the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, 1891, and more recently (1904) in the Cambridge Greek Testament. It is only the latter book, which is substantially a new work, that has been cited in the present volume. The Commentary is marked by the writer’s well-known qualities as an expositor—careful attention to the text combined with great theological suggestiveness—and, within the limits imposed by the Series to which it belongs, this is probably the most convenient edition of the Epistles for students.
Jowett, B.: The Epistles of St Paul to the Thessalonians, Galatians, Romans 2 nd ed. London, 1859. Contains various striking Essays on such subjects as ‘Evils in the Church of the Apostolical Age,’ ‘On the Belief in the Coming of Christ in the Apostolical Age,’ and ‘On the Man of Sin.’
Lightfoot, J. B. (Lft.): The Notes on 1, 2 Thess. occupy pp. 1–136 of Bishop Lightfoot’s posthumously published Notes on Epistles of St Paul (London, 1895), and combined with the same writer’s art. ‘Thessalonians, Epistles to the’ in Smith’s D.B. and his Essays on ‘The Churches of Macedonia’ and ‘The Church of Thessalonica’ in Biblical Essays (London, 1893) p. 235 ff. make up a mass of invaluable material relating to the Epistles, to which subsequent workers find it difficult sufficiently to express their indebtedness.
Vaughan, C. J.: The First Epistle to the Thessalonians. Cambridge, 1865. The first part of an Edition (apparently never carried further) of the Pauline Epistles for English readers, containing a literal new translation and short notes.
Wordsworth, C.: The New Testament in the original Greek, Part 3. London, 1859.
In addition to the foregoing, Commentaries on the Epistles have been contributed by Archbishop Alexander to The Speaker’s Commentary (London, 1881), by Canon A. J. Mason to Bishop Ellicott’s New Testament Commentary for English Readers (London, no date), by Principal Marcus Dods to Schaff’s Popular Commentary on the New Testament (Edinburgh, 1882), by Dr P. J. Gloag to The Pulpit Commentary (London, 1887), and by Dr W. F. Adeney to The Century Bible (Edinburgh, no date).
In his First and Second Epistle to the Thessalonians (London, 1899 and 1900) the Rev. G. W. Garrod has provided careful Analyses of the Epistles with brief Notes for the special use of students in the Church Training Colleges.
Amongst more recent homiletical literature dealing with the Epistles, mention may be made of Dr John Lillie’s Lectures on the Epistles of Paul to the Thessalonians (Edinburgh, 1863), of Dr John Hutchison’s Lectures on the Epistles to the Thessalonians (Edinburgh, 1884), an interesting series of discourses founded on a careful exegesis of the text, and of Prof. Denney’s volume in The Expositor’s Bible (London, 1892), where the theological side of the Epistles is brought out with great clearness and suggestiveness.
A volume on the Epistles by Professor Frame, of Union Theological Seminary, New York, is announced by Messrs T. and T. Clark in connexion with the International Critical Commentary.
6. Special Studies
Studies or Monographs dealing with particular points in the Epistles are referred to under the relative sections, but the titles and aims of a few of the more important may be collected here.
Askwith, E. H.: An Introduction to the Thessalonian Epistles. London, 1892. A defence of their genuineness with a new view of the eschatology of 2 Thess.
Brünig, W.; Die Sprachform des zweiten Thessalonicherbriefes. Naumburg a. S., 1903. Aims at showing its truly Pauline character.
Klöpper, A.: Der zweite Brief an die Thessalonicher (from Theol. Studien und Skizzen aus Ostpreussen). Königsberg, 1889. A somewhat discursive plea for the Pauline authorship.
Soden, H. von: Der erste Thessalonicherbrief in SK., 1885, p. 263 ff. Contains a full defence of the authenticity of the Epistle.
Spitta, F.: Der zweite Brief an die Thessalonicher in Zur Geschichte und Litteratur des Urchristentums, 1. p. 109 ff. (Göttingen, 1893). Suggests that Paul left the actual composition of the Epistle to Timothy, who made use in his work of a Jewish apocalypse of the time of Caligula.
Vies, A. B. van der: De belden brieven ann de Thessalonicensen, historisch-kritisch onderzoek naar hunnen oorsprung. Leiden, 1865.
Westrik, T. F.: De echtheid van den tweeden brief ann de Thessalonicensen. Utrecht, 1879. ‘Especially useful on the question of style’ (Moffatt). The present writer has been unable to make any use of either of the foregoing.
Wrede, W.: Die Echtheit des zweiten Thessalonicherbriefs (in Texte und Untersuchungen, N.F. 9:2), Leipzig, 1903. A strong attack on the Epistle’s authenticity, principally on the ground of its literary dependence on 1 Thess.
Zimmer, F.: Der Text der Thessalonicherbriefe. Quedlinburg, 1893. A revised Text with Critical Apparatus, and discussion of the characteristics of the various authorities.
Zimmer, F.: 1 Thessalonians 2:3-8 erklärt in Theologische Studien B. Weiss dargebracht, p. 248 ff. Göttingen, 1897. Designed to show the rich results of a thoroughgoing exegesis applied to the Epistles.
2 Peter 3:15-16.
A. St Paul as a Letter-Writer
Demetrius de Elocutione 231 (ed. Roberts, p. 176).
‘Als einen Ersatz seiner persönlichen Wirkung schreibt er seine Briefe. Dieser Briefstil ist Paulus, niemand als Paulus; es ist nicht Privatbrief und doch nicht Literatur, ein unnachahmliches, wenn auch immer wieder nachgeahmtes Mittelding.’
U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff Die Griechische Literatur des Altertums p. 157 (in Die Kultur der Gegenwart 1. 8, Berlin, 1905).
We have already seen that the Thessalonian Epistles are true ‘letters,’ and not doctrinal treatises, and that, in adopting this method of communicating with his scattered Churches, St Paul found a means of communication admirably suited alike to his own temperament, and to the circumstances under which he wrote. The use of a ‘letter’ indeed for religious purposes was not altogether without precedent. It was by a letter that Jeremiah communicated God’s will regarding them to the Jewish captives in Babylon (Jeremiah 29.), and by a letter again, to come down to Christian times, that the Council at Jerusalem announced their decision to the Gentile Churches (Acts 15.). But, notwithstanding these partial parallels, St Paul was apparently the first to recognize the full possibilities that lay in a letter as a means of conveying religious instruction. And as there is good reason to believe that in the Thessalonian Epistles we have the earliest of his extant writings (see p. 36 f.), this is a fitting opportunity for trying to form as clear an idea as possible of the outward form and method of the Pauline correspondence.
Towards this, recent discoveries in Egypt have lent most valuable aid. For though it is somewhat remarkable that no copy of a Pauline Epistle, or any part of one, on papyrus, belonging to the first three centuries, has yet come to light, the ordinary papyrus letters of the Apostle’s time enable us to picture to ourselves with great distinctness what must have been the exact format of the Pauline autographs.
Thus there can be no doubt that, like other letter-writers of his time, St Paul wrote his letters on papyrus. The costlier pergament, which was used for copies of the O.T. books, was not only beyond the Apostle’s slender means, but would have been out of keeping with the fugitive and occasional character he himself ascribed to his writings. And he would naturally fall back upon a material which was easily procurable, and whose use for the purposes of writing had already a long history behind it.
In itself papyrus is derived from the papyrus-plant (Cyperus papyrus L.), and was prepared for the purposes of writing according to a well-established process, of which the elder Pliny (N.H. 13:11–13) has left a classical account.
According to this, the pith (
The size of the sheets thus formed would obviously vary according to the quality of the papyrus; but Dr Kenyon has shown that for non-literary documents the size in ordinary use would be from 5 to 5 ½ inches in width, and from 9 to 11 inches in height.
For a brief note, like the Epistle to Philemon, a single sheet would therefore suffice, but, when more space was required, it was easily procurable by fastening the requisite number of sheets together to form a roll, the beginning (
As a rule the original writing was confined to one side of the papyrussheet, that side being chosen on which the fibres lay horizontally (recto), which was therefore smoother for the purpose. But occasionally, when space failed, recourse was had also to the back (verso). The verso was also frequently used for some other writing of less importance, or for scribbling purposes, much as we use the back of an old letter.
The matter was arranged in columns (
To complete our survey of the writing-materials, it is sufficient to notice that the black ink (
When finished, the roll was rolled round upon itself, and fastened together with a thread, and in ordinary letters the address or title was then written on the hack of the roll. In the case of more important literary works, which would be preserved in libraries, a
In order to ascertain its contents, the reader held the roll with two hands, unrolling it with his right, and with his left hand rolling up what he had finished reading: a practice which enables us to understand the imagery of Revelation 6:14
To such a mode of procedure the Egyptian papyri again offer striking confirmation, the signature being often in a different hand from the body of the document itself, as when a letter on land-distribution by three officials, Phanias, Heraclas, and Diogenes, is endorsed at the bottom by the second of these (
In speaking of St Paul’s amanuensis, we must not however think of a professional scribe (
Nor can we leave out of sight the possibility that, when dictating, St Paul may frequently have held some letter he was answering in his hand, and that consequently quotations from his correspondents’ language, which we should now in print at any rate distinguish by the use of inverted commas, may have found their way into his answer, or at any rate suggested the exact form of the language employed.
In a suggestive paper in the Expositor (5. 6. p. 65 ff.) Dr Walter Lock has applied this possibility to the elucidation of 1 Corinthians 8:1-9, and more recently Dr Rendel Harris (Exp. 5. 8. p. 169 ff.) has tried in the same way to disentangle from our existing 1 Thessalonians traces of a lost letter previously addressed by the Thessalonians to St Paul. Some of the points raised may perhaps seem to the ordinary reader over-subtle, and capable of simpler explanation. But the idea is a fruitful one, and may yet be found to do good service in the explanation of various Pauline linguistic and grammatical anomalies.
Another possibility is that what were originally marginal annotations now form part of the Pauline Epistles. What more natural, it has been argued, than that St Paul should have read over his letter, after his scribe had finished writing it, and jotted down in the margin explanatory comments or additions, which afterwards found their way into the text. That marginal annotations of this kind were added later is well known; but it is very doubtful whether any of them can be traced back to St Paul himself. The general form of an ordinary papyrus-letter left, as we have already seen, little room for them. And such a phrase for example as
We are on surer ground when we turn to the undoubted light which the correspondence of the time throws upon the general form of the Pauline letters. That form, as is well known, consists as a rule of an Address or Greeting, a Thanksgiving, Special Contents, Personal Salutations, and an Autographic Conclusion. And when full allowance has been made for difference in character and tone, it is remarkable how closely this structure resembles the structure of an ordinary Greek letter.
This will perhaps be best shown by giving one or two specimens of the latter. We begin with a short letter from Oxyrhynchus, of date a.d. 16, in which the writer Theon recommends to the notice of his brother Heraclides the bearer of the letter Hermophilus.
On the verso is written the address:
the round brackets indicating the resolution of the abbreviations employed.
The general similarity of the Address and the closing Salutation to the ordinary Pauline practice is at once obvious, and the same may be said of the following letter of invitation from the Faiyûm, belonging to the year a.d. 84.
The address is again on the verso:
Our next example still more closely recalls a Pauline letter, as, in addition to more formal resemblances, it contains an earnest prayer to the writer’s god Serapis for the welfare of her children. This letter was also discovered in the Faiyûm, and belongs to the end of the second, or the beginning of the third, century of our era.
On the verso this letter has two addresses, one in the original hand to the effect
and the second in a different hand
It would appear therefore that the first recipient Ptolemaios had afterwards forwarded his mother’s letter to his brother of the same name, and his sister Apolinaria.
To these three letters I am tempted to add in full the pagan letter of consolation already referred to (see 1 Thessalonians 4:18 note) as, apart from similarity in outward form, its contents stand in such striking contrast to the bright and hopeful character of the Epistles before us.
P.Oxy. 115 (2./a.d.):
On the verso
Nothing would be easier than to multiply examples, but these must suffice to show the amount of truth there is in Deissmann’s dictum that the Pauline letters ‘differ from the messages of the homely Papyrus leaves from Egypt not as letters, but only as the letters of Paul’ (BS. p. 44): while they also make clear how frequently the actual phrases employed are drown from the current epistolary language of the Apostle’s time. This is naturally most noticeable in the more formal parts of the letter such as the address or the closing salutation; but it is by no means confined to these, as will be seen from the preceding Notes on such passages as 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 2 Thessalonians 2:3; 2 Thessalonians 3:2.
Similarly with the authenticating signature. Reference has already been made to the fact that this was apparently generally added in St Paul’s own haud in accordance with general practice. And it is enough to add that the
The only other point requiring notice is the mode of despatch of the Pauline letters. By this time the Imperial Post, established by Augustus, was in full operation, but its use was strictly limited to state and official needs, and ordinary correspondence could only be sent by special messenger, or by favour of some friend or passing traveller. Even had it been otherwise, it is obvious that many of the Apostle’s communications could only have been entrusted with safety to a Christian messenger in full sympathy with their object. The messenger’s part would thus be an important one. And there can be little doubt that to St Paul’s messengers there often fell the task of reinforcing and supplementing the Apostolic message to the Churches addressed.
B. Did St Paul use the Epistolary Plural?
The question of whether St Paul ever uses the epistolary plural is one of some general interest, and has also a direct bearing upon the interpretation of several passages in our Epistles. It is a question which has sometimes been answered very definitely in the negative, as when it has been maintained that St Paul never uses the 1st pers. plur. except with reference to more than one person (Hofmann Die heil. Schrift neuen Testaments (1862) 1. p. 147 and passim), or, more guardedly, that in those Epistles where several names occur in the address all subsequent 1st persons plur. must be referred to them, except where the context demands a still wider reference, as e.g. to Christians in general (Zahn Einl. in d. N.T. 1. pp. 150 ff., 219 f.). Laurent, on the other hand, as positively declares (SK. 1868 p. 159 ff., Neutest. Stud. p. 117 f.) that, so far at least as the Thessalonian Epistles are concerned, the 1st pers. plur. is always to be referred to St Paul alone as a kind of pluralis maiestaticus, being used by the Apostle when he speaks in his official capacity, while as a private individual he uses the singular. As a matter of fact, however, as Karl Dick has shown in his elaborate monograph Der schriftstellerische Plural bei Paulus (Halle, 1900), no such hard and fast rule on either side can be carried consistently through without doing constant violence to the sense. And the general conclusion at which Dick arrives after a complete survey of the evidence is that St Paul uses the 1st pers. plur. with such a wide variety of nuances and shades of meaning, that the pluralis auctoris may well have a place amongst them, wherever it is found to be most in keeping with the context, and the circumstances of writing at the time.
Nor in this would the Apostle cause any undue difficulty to his readers. For if the use of the 1st pers. plur. for the 1st pers. sing. seems only to have existed to a very limited extent in classical Gk. (cf. Kühner 2:1. § 371. 3, Gildersleeve Syntax § 54), in later writers it is very common (e.g. Polyb. 1:41. 7
We must be careful indeed not to overstrain the evidence in this direction, as some of the instances which are usually cited are by no means certain, owing to the possibility that the writer may be including those around him, members of his family or friends, in the plural reference. Thus in the first of Dick’s two examples B.G.U. 27 (not 41, as Dick), 5 ff.
Other examples can however now be cited in which it seems impossible to establish any distinction between the two numbers. For example, in the opening salutation of P.Par. 43 (2./b.c.) we find
It is unnecessary to go on multiplying instances. These are sufficient to prove the possibility, to say the least, of the use of
On the other hand in view of the fact that in several of his Epistles (1 Cor., Gal., Phil., Philemon) St Paul, after starting with an address from several persons, employs the 1st sing. throughout in the body of the letters, the continued use of the 1st pers. plur. throughout the Thessalonian Epistles is surely significant, and may be taken as indicating a closer and more continuous joint-authorship than was always the case at other times. And as we are further supported in this conclusion by all that we know regarding the special circumstances under which the two Epistles were written (see Intr. p. 34 f.), we shall do well to give its full weight to this normal use of the plural in them, and to think of it as including St Paul’s two companions along with himself wherever on other grounds this is possible.
C. The Thessalonian Friends of St Paul
In view of the strength of the ties which bound St Paul to the Thessalonian Church, it is not surprising to find that several of its members were afterwards reckoned amongst his close personal friends.
Amongst these a first place is naturally given to Jason who was his host at Thessalonica, and who must subsequently have joined St Paul on his missionary journeyings, if, as is generally thought, he is to be identified with the Jason who unites with the Apostle in sending greetings from Corinth to the Roman Christians (Romans 16:21). In this case too we get the further information regarding him that he was a Jew by birth (cf.
More prominently mentioned in connexion with St Paul’s later history is a certain Aristarchus of Thessalonica (Acts 20:4). He was with the Apostle on his last journey to Jerusalem, and afterwards accompanied him and St Luke on the voyage to Rome (Acts 27:2). Bishop Lightfoot thinks that on this occasion he did not accompany St Paul all the way, but that, when the Apostle’s plans were changed at Myra, Aristarchus continued in the Adramyttian vessel to his own home in Thessalonica (Philipp. p. 34 f.). But if so, he certainly rejoined St Paul later in Rome, and apparently shared his captivity, to judge from the language of Colossians 4:10
It is sometimes thought that Aristarchus is included in the
As illustrating the connexion of the name with Thessalonica, it may be mentioned that in an inscription containing a list of politarchs recently discovered at Thessalonica the list begins with
Closely associated with Aristarchus in Acts 20:4 is another Thessalonian, Secundus, of whom we know nothing further, though again it is not without interest to notice that the same name occurs among the Thessalonian politarchs in the list on the triumphal Arch (C.I.G. 11. 1967; cf. Intr. p. 23), and is also found on a memorial inscription of the year 15 a.d., discovered in a private house in the Jewish quarter of Thessalonica, which runs
This last inscription recalls yet another Macedonian friend of St Paul, the Gaius of Acts 19:29
There remains still a fifth possible Thessalonian as holding a place for a time in the circle of St Paul’s more immediate friends. In Philem. 24 a certain Demas is described along with the Thessalonian Aristarchus as a
A later instance of the name is afforded by the martyr Demetrius who perished at Thessalonica in the persecution under Maximian (Intr. p. 24).
D. The Divine Names in the Epistles
The early date of the Epp. to the Thessalonians, combined with the generally undogmatic character of their contents, makes their evidence as to the view taken of the Person of Christ in the Apostolic Church specially significant. It is of importance therefore, as helping us to understand that view, to examine more closely than was possible in the Commentary the Names by which the Lord is here spoken of.
We begin naturally with the human Name Jesus which, standing by itself, is found only in two passages:
1 Thessalonians 1:10
1 Thessalonians 4:14
This rare occurrence of the Name by which the Saviour was familiarly known during His earthly life may seem at first sight somewhat surprising, but is in entire accord with the general trend of Pauline teaching, the centre of which is to be found not in the earthly but in the heavenly and exalted Christ. Only when, as in the foregoing passages, the reference to the historic facts of the Saviour’s life is so direct as to make any other Name less suitable does St Paul use it alone without any other title.
Thus, to refer briefly to his later usage, in the four principal Epp. the name
Its use is characteristic of the Ep. to the Hebrews, and of the Apocalypse of St John where, except in the opening Greeting (1:5) and in the Benediction (22:21),
The Name Christ by itself is also comparatively rare, occurring four times altogether:
1 Thessalonians 2:6
1 Thessalonians 3:2
1 Thessalonians 4:16
2 Thessalonians 3:5
On two of these occasions the Name is accompanied by the def. art., and, as generally, when this is the case, is used in its official sense of ‘the Christ,’ ‘the Messiah’ (1 Thessalonians 3:2, 2 Thessalonians 3:5 : see notes ad loca). On the other hand in 1 Thessalonians 2:6 the anarthrous
The combination Christ Jesus, which denotes the Saviour alike in His official and personal character, and whose use in the N.T. is confined to St Paul, occurs twice, both times in the characteristic formula
1 Thessalonians 2:14
1 Thessalonians 5:18
The early Christian formula
We now come to Lord, or the Lord, the frequency of whose occurrence entitles it to be regarded as the distinctive Name of these Epp.. It is found in all twenty-two times, eight times with, and four times without the article. And though the two usages cannot be so clearly distinguished as in the case of
|1 Thessalonians 1:6|
|2 Thessalonians 1:9|
In some of these passages the Name may seem at first sight to refer to God rather than to Christ, as e.g. in the passages derived from the LXX. (1 Thessalonians 4:6, 2 Thessalonians 1:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:13), but as in the vastly preponderating number of instances it can only apply to the Son, it is better so to refer it throughout, in accordance with St Paul’s general usage elsewhere.
When we do so, the varied connotations in which we find it used throw a flood of light upon the depth of meaning which thus early in the history of the Church had come to be read into the simple title. It stands no longer, as apparently it generally did for the disciples during the earthly lifetime of Jesus, for Rabbi or Rabboni, a title which from St John’s interpretation they must have understood in a sense differing little from ‘Master’ (20:16, cf. Matthew 23:8; Matthew 26:25; Matthew 26:49, Mark 10:51). But, in accordance with a tendency of which we find clear traces very shortly after the Resurrection (Acts 2:36
This is seen most clearly in the use of the title in connexion with the actual Parousia of the Lord and the events associated with it (1 Thessalonians 4:15 ff; 1 Thessalonians 5:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:2). But it comes out also in the other references to which the foregoing passages bear witness.
Thus it is ‘the word’ of the ‘Lord’ which the Apostles find to be sounding forth in every place (1 Thessalonians 1:8, cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:1), and to which they look as embodying a direct communication to themselves (1 Thessalonians 4:15 note). It is ‘in the Lord,’ in whom their ideal ‘Christian’ life is actually lived out, that the Thessalonians are encouraged to stand firm (1 Thessalonians 3:8, cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:3 f.), and to the same ‘Lord’ that the Apostles pray to perfect in their converts the graces (1 Thessalonians 3:12, 2 Thessalonians 3:5; 2 Thessalonians 3:16), of which He Himself is the perfect example.
Nothing indeed can be more significant of the hold which this aspect of Christ has taken of St Paul than that when calling upon the Thessalonians to be ‘imitators’ of himself and of his fellow-writers, he does not add, as we might have expected, ‘and of Jesus,’ or even ‘and of the Christ,’ but ‘and of the Lord’ (1 Thessalonians 1:6), thereby pointing not merely to the supreme pattern to be copied, but to the living power in which alone this ‘imitation’ could be accomplished, and man’s highest end successfully reached.
How completely however the Apostle recognized that the earthly ‘Jesus’ and the heavenly ‘Lord’ were one and the same is proved by the next combination that meets us.
That combination is the Lord Jesus, and the first occasion on which it is used throws into striking relief at once the Divine glory and the human character of Him to whom it refers:
1 Thessalonians 2:15
He whom the Jews had slain was not only ‘the Lord’—‘Him whom they were bound to serve’ (Jowett)—He was moreover ‘Jesus,’ their Saviour.
And so, from another point of view, when in their Second Ep. the Apostles refer to the revelation in and through which God’s righteous
2 Thessalonians 1:7
The other passages in which the same combination occurs, and which are equally deserving of study, are:
1 Thessalonians 2:19
2 Thessalonians 1:8
Apart from any special considerations which may have led to the use of this compound Name in the above passages, we cannot forget that in itself it formed the shortest and simplest statement of the Christian creed (Acts 16:31, Romans 10:9)—a statement moreover ‘so completely in defiance of the accepted dogma about the Christ, so revolutionary in its effects on the character of the believer, that it was viewed as springing from Divine inspiration. “No man,” said Paul in writing to the Corinthians, “can say that Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3).’
On the other hand, this makes the comparative rarity of the title in the Pauline Epistles, other than those to the Thessalonians, all the more remarkable. In the Ep. to the Galatians it is not found at all. In the relatively much longer Epp. to the Corinthians it occurs only seven times (1 Corinthians 5:4 (bis), 5:5, 11:23, 12:3, 2 Corinthians 4:14; 2 Corinthians 11:31), while only a single instance of its use can be produced from each of the Epp. to the Ephesians (1:15), Philippians (2:19), and Colossians (3:17), the explanation probably being a growing preference on St Paul’s part for the still more comprehensive and expressive combination, the Lord Jesus Christs.
Already, indeed, in our Epp. we find this full Name completely established, occurring as it does five times in the First and no less than nine times in the short Second Epistle.
1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:1
28, 2 Thessalonians 3:18
2 Thessalonians 1:2
None of these passages call for special remark beyond the evidence which they afford of the appropriateness of the full Name with all its associations for Addresses, Benedictions, and solemn Charges of any kind—a usage which the testimony of the lager Epp. abundantly confirms.
E. On the history of
‘Euâgeliô (that we cal the gospel) is a greke worde, & signyfyth good, mery, glad and ioyfull tydinge, that maketh a mannes hert glad, and maketh hym synge, daunce, and leepe for ioye.’
Tindale (after Luther) Prologue to N.T., 1525.
Afterwards in later Gk. it came to be extended to the good tidings themselves, as in Lucian Asin. 26, and on several occasions in Plutarch.
In the LXX. it is found only once, where it reverts to its original Homeric meaning (2 Regn. 4:10
Thy righteousness aloud,
Good tidings of great joy I tell.
Cf. also Psalms 95. (96.) 2
And more especially in Deutero-Isaiah we find it in contexts which pave the way for its full Christian meaning.
Thus in Isaiah 40:9 the prophet summons a messenger to ascend a high mountain, and proclaim to Sion and Jerusalem the glad tidings of God’s appearing (
This last passage indeed from our Lord’s own use of it in Luke 4:18 f. may be said to have set the stamp upon
It can only be an accident, therefore, that he finds no occasion to use the corresponding subst. in his Gospel (but cf. Acts 15:7 speech of Peter, 20:24 speech of Paul), as do both St Mark and St Matthew.
St Mark’s usage in this respect is very instructive, as apart from 1:1 where we seem to have a trace of
It is all the more surprising, therefore, that in the case of the other writers of the N.T., with the exception of St Paul, the use of the two words is by no means so common as we might have expected. Neither St James in his Epistle, nor St John in his Gospel and Epistles, uses either term, though the latter in the Apocalypse employs the subst. once (14:6), and the verb in the active twice (10:7, 14:6). St Peter in his First Epistle has the subst. once (4:17), and the verb three times (1:12, 1:25, 4:6): and in the Epistle to the Hebrews the verb occurs twice (4:2, 4:6).
In the case of St Paul, however, both words occur with a frequency, which shows how strongly he had been attracted by them, as the most fitting terms to describe the message with which he had been entrusted: and it is to his influence accordingly that we must look for the prominence which they and their equivalents have since gained in the language of Christendom.
Thus the subst.
Naturally in so widely extended a list of examples, the two words are used with a considerable variety of application, as when the subst. is used absolutely as a convenient summary of the whole contents of the Christian message (Romans 10:16 &c.), or defined more particularly in its relation to God (1 Thessalonians 2:2 &c.), or to Christ (1 Thessalonians 3:2 &c.), or to the Apostle himself as entrusted with its proclamation (1 Thessalonians 1:5, 2 Thessalonians 2:14 &c.). In another important set of passages St Paul draws attention to characteristic aspects of this message by such phrases as
Of the later usage of
In the same way the title
The three words
In classical Gk. the word
The same usage may also be illustrated from later Gk. Thus in Polyb. 3:41. 1 certain events are summarized as having taken place from the beginning of the war
With this general usage of the word may be compared such a passage from the
But along with this it is important to notice that
Other instances might easily be given, but these are sufficient to suggest an interesting comparison with the N.T. usage of the word to denote the Parousia of their King or Lord for which His people are to make ready. And we fall back upon them the more gladly because for this particular sense of the word the Jewish sacred writings give us little help.
In the LXX.
Nor is the case substantially different in the later apocalyptic writings. It is true that in Apoc. Baruch 3:1 ‘And it will come to pass after these things, when the time of the advent of the Messiah is fulfilled, and He will return in glory,’ Dr Charles draws attention to the fact that the word translated ‘advent’ (ܡܐܬܢܬܐ) was an ordinary rendering of
In these circumstances it would seem as if for the definite N.T. usage of the term to describe the coming of the glorified Christ, we must look directly to the impression produced upon His disciples’ minds by the words of the Lord Himself. For though neither in St Mark nor in St Luke is He represented as having used the term, it is found four times in the great eschatological discourse in Matthew 24. (vv. 3, 27, 37, 39). And without discounting the possibility of the hand of a later redactor, there is after all no reason why the first Evangelist should not on this occasion supply the word, which most faithfully represents the original language of Jesus.
If so, we have at once a full and satisfactory explanation of the fact that the term
To complete our survey of the history of the word it may be added that this technical use of the term has become firmly established in the ecclesiastical writers, though by them it is extended also to the First Coming of the Lord, a use which is never found in the N.T. Thus Ignatius Philad. 9. writes
A similar use is found in the inscriptions where the word is employed not only of divine assistance (e.g. O.G.I.S. 331, 52
In the canonical books of the LXX. the word is found only three times, in passages (2 Regn. 7:23, Esther 5:1, Amos 5:2) none of which throws much light on its special meaning. But in 2 and 3 Maccabees it occurs several times with reference to God’s supernatural interpositions
With this use of the subst. there should also be compared the frequent use of the verb in the Psalms to denote God’s making His face to shine upon His people, e.g. Psalms 30. (31.) 17, 117. (118.) 27; while the corresponding adj.
In ecclesiastical writers
The corresponding verb
These passages, combined with our Lord’s own words Lk. 27:30
The word is, however, pre-eminently a Pauline one, occurring in all the groups of the Epp. except the Pastorals, and always in its higher or spiritual sense. Thus it is
In all these passages it will be noticed that, notwithstanding a considerable latitude of application, the fundamental idea of the word is always the same—an unveiling of what already exists, though hitherto it has been hidden, or at best only imperfectly known: an unveiling which, though it may pass through a long and varying process, finally reaches its climax in the full revelation of the now unseen, though ever-present Lord.
The religious history of the word outside the Canon need not detain us. In view of what has been said, it will be obvious how readily it lent itself as a title to the large class of writings, both Jewish and Christian, which, dealing with what lay outside the immediate range of human experience and knowledge, aimed at exhorting and consoling those to whom they were addressed in the dark days on which they had fallen. ‘Tracts for the Times,’ as they have been called, they were also ‘Tracts for Bad Times,’ and with widely-differing degrees of insight sought by the aid of symbolism and eschatological speculation to disclose to men the hidden but ever-present rule and purposes of God.
If we have been correct in the foregoing distinctions between the three words, it will be seen that, while all may be used to describe the Return of the now exalted and glorified Lord, they do so from three distinct points of view.
The three words
In doing so we begin with the adj.
From this the transition is easy to disorderly or irregular living of any kind as in Plato’s reference to
The word is not found in the canonical books of the LXX., but in Sap. 14:26 the corresponding subst. occurs in the phrase
The usage of
A late example to much the same effect is afforded by the discovery in the Fayûm of the fragment of a philosophic work concerning the gods, belonging to the second century, in Which the words occur
We come now to
In later Greek this ethical sense is very common, as when, by Philostratus I., the verb was applied to children who dreaded punishment ‘if they had done any thing amiss’ (
In these circumstances we are prepared to take both the verb and its cognates metaphorically in the Thessalonian Epp., as indeed the context clearly demands. And the only question that remains is whether they are to be understood positively of actual wrong-doing, or in a more negative sense of a certain remissness in the conduct of life.
Of the Gk. commentators Chrysostom apparently inclines to the former view, as when in his Homily on 1 Thessalonians 5:14 he describes the
And of this latter view, at least in a slightly modified form, we have lately received unexpected confirmation in two striking examples of the use of
The first occurs in P.Oxy. 275 (a.d. 66) in a contract of apprenticeship, according to which a father binds himself not to take away his son during a certain specified period, with the further condition that if there are any days on which the boy ‘fails to attend,’ or ‘plays the truant’ (
The second also comes from Oxyrhynchus in a similar contract, dated about one hundred and twenty years later, P.Oxy. 725, according to which a weaver’s apprentice is allowed twenty holidays in the year, ‘but if he exceeds this number of days from idleness or ill-health or any other reason’ (
If then these instances can be taken as typical of the ordinary colloquial sense of the verb, we can understand how readily St Paul would employ it to describe those members of the Thessalonian Church who, without any intention of actual wrong-doing, were neglecting their daily duties, and falling into idle and careless habits, because of their expectation of the immediate Parousia of the Lord.
H. On the meanings of
(1) ‘Hold fast’:
1 Thessalonians 5:21
(2) ‘Hold back’:
2 Thessalonians 2:6
Both meanings are well-established, but in view of the importance of the passages in which they occur, it will not be out of place to bring together a few passages from the
The first meaning ‘hold fast’ is best reached through
From this the transition is easy to the sense ‘take possession of,’ ‘lay hold of,’ and accordingly in the interesting rescript regarding the Third Syrian War, ascribed with all probability to Ptolemy 3. himself, the King narrates how certain ships, acting in his interest, sailed along the coast of Cilicia to Soli, and took on board
In this passage, it will be noticed, the verb is practically =
Other examples of the more legal or technical uses of the terms, which cannot be discussed here, are—for the verb, P.Tebt. 5, 47 (a Royal ordinance, 2./b.c.) [
More important for our present purpose are the instances of the verb in a slightly metaphorical sense, as when a letter-writer of the second century accuses his correspondent of ‘being oppressed by an evil conscience’(
And if we accept the view, which has recently found strong support, that the
If, on the other hand, we incline to the older view, according to which they are to be thought of as a species of monks, living for the time being ‘in retreat’ (
Thus in P.Lond. 2. 342, 7 f. (2./a.d.) a charge is laid against one Sempronius of attempting to lay hands on the relatives of the petitioner as
These last examples bring us to the second main use of
A beneficiarius of one village addresses a letter to the comarchs of another, bidding them deliver up to the officer whom he sends a certain Pachoumis
Earlier examples of the same usage are afforded by P.Fay. 109, 11 (1/a.d.)
It is hardly necessary to carry the evidence further, but, for the sake of its intrinsic interest, reference may be made to the heathen (Archiv 2. p. 173) Charm which Crum prints in his Coptic Ostraca no. 522 beginning—
I. The Biblical Doctrine of Antichrist
The whole subject of Antichrist is surrounded with difficulties, and raises many questions which are altogether outside the scope of this Commentary. The utmost that can be attempted here is to supply a few Notes, tracing the historical growth of the idea in the sacred Scriptures and in the apocalyptic writings of the Jews, with the view of further illustrating and confirming the interpretation given to the Man of lawlessness in the foregoing pages.
1. The actual name Antichrist is first found in the Johannine Epistles (1 John 2:18; 1 John 2:22; 1 John 4:3, 2 John 1:7), but the main idea underlies St Paul’s description of the Man of lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, while, from the manner in which both writers refer to this mysterious figure, it is evident that they had in view an oral tradition current at the time (1 John 4:3
2. Here, according to the latest view, we are carried very far back. Gunkel in his epoch-making book Schöpfung und Chaos (1895) would have us find the roots of the Jewish doctrine of Antichrist in the primitive Babylonian dragon myth of a monster (Tiâmat) who opposed the Creator (Marduk) in the beginning and was overcome by Him, but who, it was believed, would in the last days again rear his head in rebellion only to be finally crushed. And more recently this view has been adopted and developed on independent lines by Bousset in his elaborate monograph on Der Antichrist (1895, translated into English, with a new Prologue by A. H. Keane, under the title The Antichrist Legend, 1896).
It is impossible here to examine in detail the evidence adduced by those writers, but their investigations have made it practically certain that this myth had reached Palestine, and is alluded to in the O.T. (see artt. ‘Rahab’ and ‘Sea-Monster’ in Hastings’ D.B.). At the same time its influence must not be exaggerated. Whatever part it may have had in familiarizing the Jews with the idea of an arch-enemy of God, it exercised little influence on the development of the idea amongst them, and many of the traits ascribed to Antichrist, which are to be found in the eschatological commentaries of Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and other early writers, and which, because unsupported by anything he can find elsewhere, Bousset is inclined to refer back to some such esoteric doctrine, are more naturally explained as the result of the imaginations of these commentators themselves, working on the data supplied to them by the Scriptures.
3. In any case we are on surer ground when we turn to those data, and, in proceeding to examine them, we may start from the general Jewish belief in a fierce attack that would be directed against Israel in the end of the days by some hostile person or power, but which would be finally frustrated by the action of Jehovah or His Messiah. The conception which the Jewish writers formed of the exact nature of this attack was naturally largely influenced by their particular circumstances at the time, but, as it first meets us, it is generally thought of as proceeding from the heathen nations of the world.
Thus in Psalms 2., which Friedländer regards as the real source (‘Quelle’) of the later Antichrist legend, we have a graphic picture of the rebellion of the world-kingdoms ‘against the Lord and against His Anointed,’ coupled with the assurance that all such rebellion, because directed against Jehovah Himself, is hopeless, and, if persevered in, can only result in the complete overthrow of the nations: while in the exilic Psalms 93. (94.) the Psalmist comforts the oppressed Israelites with the reminder that the Lord cannot have any alliance with ‘the throne of lawlessness’ (v. 20
The thought of the same contest ending in the same way meets us also in the post-exilic prophets, as for example in the description of the onslaught by Gog from the land of Magog, as the type of the world’s power, against God’s people who ‘dwell securely’ (Ezek. 38., 39.), or of the final assault against Jerusalem to which all nations of the earth go up, and which again ends in the intervention and universal headship of God (Zechariah 12-14).
It is however in the visions and prophecies of the Book of Daniel (b.c. 168–165) that we find the real starting-point of many of the later descriptions of Antichrist, and especially in the picture that is there presented of Antiochus 4., called Epiphanes. No other foreign ruler was ever regarded by the Jews with such hatred on account both of his personal impieties (1 Maccabees 1:24 à
With the fall of Antiochus and the rise of the Maccabean kingdom, the promise of deliverance, with which Daniel had comforted God’s people during their dark days, received its proximate fulfilment. But when the nation again fell under a foreign yoke, the old fears were once more revived, and received a fresh colouring from the new powers by which the Jewish nation now found itself opposed.
4. In determining the Jewish views regarding Antichrist during this period, much difficulty is caused by the uncertainty regarding the exact date of some of the relative writings, and the possibility of their having received Christian interpolations in the form in which they have come down to us. The following references, however, deserve notice.
In the Pharisaic Psalms of Solomon (48–40 b.c.) Pompey as the representative of the foreign power that had overthrown Zion is described as the personification of sin (2:1
Similarly in the Apocalypse of Baruch which, though belonging to the last decade of the 1st cent. a.d., is in the main a true Jewish writing, we have a description of the destruction of the ‘lost leader’ of the enemies of Israel by the Messiah on Mount Zion (40:1, 40:2), where again Pompey may be thought of. And in 4 Ezra 5:1-6, belonging to about the same time, after an enumeration of the signs of the last times, and the coming of the fourth (Roman) Empire, after the third (Greek) Empire has passed away in disorder (‘post tertiam turbatam’ ed. Bensly), we read of one who ‘shall rule whom they that dwell upon the earth look not for’ (‘et regnabit quem non sperant qui inhabitant super terram’), a mysterious being, who is generally identified with the future Antichrist.
In none of these passages, it will be noticed, have we more than a God-opposing being of human origin, but it has recently been pointed out with great cogency by Dr Charles (Ascension of Isaiah p. 55 ff.) that, in the interval between the Old and the New Testaments, a further development was given to the Jewish belief in Antichrist through the influence of the Beliar-myth.
In the O.T. ‘belial’ is never strictly speaking a proper name, but denotes ‘worthlessness,’ ‘wickedness.’ From its frequent occurrence, however, along with another noun in such phrases as ‘daughter’ (1 Samuel 1:16), ‘man’ (1 Samuel 25:25), and especially ‘sons’ (Deuteronomy 13:13, Judges 19:22 &c.) of ‘belial,’ it is obvious how readily the idea lent itself to personification, while it is not without significance in our present inquiry that in those latter passages it is rendered in the LXX. by
In the later pseudepigraphical literature of the Jews this humanizing or rather demonizing process is carried still further, until the title regularly appears as a synonym for Satan or one of his lieutenants.
Thus in the Book of Jubilees (2./b.c.) we read ‘Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be lifted up upon Thy people … and let not the spirit of Beliar rule over them’ (1:20, cf. 15:33, ed. Charles). And similar references to Beliar as a Satanic spirit are frequent in the Testaments of the xii Patriarchs (2./b.c., in part at least): see e.g. Reub. 4:7, 6:3, Levi 3:3, 18:12.
The most interesting passage, however, for our purpose is contained in the third book of the Sibylline Oracles, in a section which in the main goes back to the same early date, where Beliar is depicted as a truly Satanic being accompanied by all the signs that are elsewhere ascribed to Antichrist. The passage is as follows:
* * * * *
Orac. Sib. 3:63 ff. (ed. Rzach).
With this passage should also be compared Orac. Sib. 2:167 f. where it is stated that ‘Beliar will come and do many signs to men’
though here the originally Jewish origin of the passage is by no means so certain.
In the same way it is impossible to lay too much stress in the present connexion on the speculations of Rabbinical theology regarding the person of Antichrist in view of the late date of our authorities. But we may accept, as in the main reflecting the views of the Jews about the beginning of the Christian era, the general conception of a powerful ruler to be born of the tribe of Danand uniting in himself all enmity against God and hatred against God’s people, but whom the Messiah will finally slay by the breath of His lips.
5. We can see how readily this idea would lend itself to the political and materialistic longings of the Jews, and it is only therefore what we should expect when we find our Lord, true to His spiritual ideals, saying nothing by which these expectations might be encouraged in the minds of His hearers, but contenting Himself with warning them against false teachers, the ‘false Christs’ and the ‘false prophets’ who would be ready ‘to lead astray, if possible, even the elect’ (Matthew 24:24, Mark 13:22). Even too, when in the same discourse He seems to refer to a single Antichrist, the reference is veiled under the mysterious figure derived from Daniel of the ‘abomination of desolation standing (
6. Slight, however, though these references in our Lord’s recorded teaching are, they would naturally direct the attention of the Apostolic writers to the traditional material lying to their hands in their treatment of this mysterious subject, and, as a matter of fact, we have clear evidence of the use of such material in the writings of at least two of them.
Thus, apart from his direct reference to the Jewish belief in Beliar in 2 Corinthians 6:15 (‘And what concord hath Christ with Beliar?’), St Paul has given us in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 a very full description of the working of Antichrist, under the name of the Man of lawlessness, in which, as we have already seen (comm. ad loc.), he draws freely on the language and imagery of the O.T. and of the speculations of later Judaism. It is unnecessary to recapitulate the evidence, but for the sake of completeness it may be well to summarize briefly the leading features in the Pauline picture.
(1) ‘The mystery of lawlessness’ is already at work, though for the moment it is held in check by a restraining person or power, probably to be identified with the power of law or government, especially as these were embodied at the time in the Roman State. (2) No sooner has this restraining power been removed (cf. 4 Ezra 5:4, Apoc. Bar. 39:7) than a general ‘apostasy’ results, which finds its consummation in the ‘revelation’ of ‘the Man of lawlessness.’ (3) As ‘the opposer’ he ‘exalteth himself against all that is called God’ (cf. Daniel 11:36 f.) and actually ‘sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God’—the description being again modelled on the Danielie account (cf. Daniel 8:13; Daniel 9:27; Daniel 11:31; Daniel 12:11), and the ‘lying wonders’ by which his working is distinguished being illustrated by such passages as Orac. Sib. 3:64 f., Asc. Isai. 4:5 (see above). (4) Powerful as this incarnation of wickedness seems to be, the Lord Jesus at His Parousia will ‘slay him with the breath of His mouth,’ the words being a quotation from Isaiah 11:4, a passage which the Targum of Jonathan afterwards applied to the destruction of Armilus the Jewish Antichrist, and whose use here St Paul may well have drawn from the Jewish tradition of his time (cf. the use of the same passage in Pss. Sol. 17:27; 17:39; 4 Ezra 13:10).
The whole description, it will thus be seen, is of a very composite character, though at the same time it is so definite and detailed, that it is hardly to be wondered at that there has been a constant endeavour to find its suggestion in some historical personage of the writer’s own time. But though the sacrilegious conduct of Caligula (Jos. Antt. 18. 261 (8. 2), Tac. Hist. 5:9, Suet. Calig. 22:33) may have influenced the writer’s language in v. 4, the real roots of the conception lie elsewhere, and it is rather, as we have seen, in the O.T. and in current Jewish traditions that its explanation is to be sought.
7. The same may be said, in part at least, of the various evil powers which meet us in the Johannine Apocalypse. The first wild Beast of the Seer (Revelation 13-20) vividly recalls the horned wild Beast of Daniel 7:8., and the parallels that can be drawn between the language of St John and of St Paul (cf. Revelation 12:9; Revelation 13:1 f. with 2 Thessalonians 2:9 f.; 13:5 ff., 14:11 with 2:4, 2:10–12; 13:3 with 2:9 ff.) point to similar sources as lying at the roots of both. On the other hand the Johannine descriptions have now a direct connexion with contemporary secular history which was largely wanting in the earlier picture. This is seen noticeably in the changed attitude towards the power of Rome. So far from this being regarded any longer as a restraining influence, it is rather the source from which evil is to spring. And we can understand therefore how the city of Rome and its imperial house supply St John with many of the characteristics under which he describes the working of Antichrist, until at length he sees all the powers of evil culminate in the Beast of c. 17., who, according to the interpretation of Bousset (adopted by James in Hastings’ D.B.), is partly representative of an individual who ‘was, and is not, and shall be present’ (v. 8
8. There remain only the references in the Johannine Epistles to hich, it will be remembered, we owe the name of Antichrist. In these, conformably to the writer’s main object, the spiritual side of the conception is again predominant. Thus, after indicating some of the main elements in Christian Truth, St John passes in 1 Thessalonians 2:18 to the conflict into which at ‘a last hour’ Truth will be brought with Falsehood, and in token of this points to the decisive sign by which this crisis will be known, namely, the coming of ‘Antichrist,’ the absence of the article in the original showing that the word has already come to be used as a technical proper name. Nor does ‘Antichrist’ stand alone. Rather he is to be regarded as ‘the personification of the principle shown in different antichrists’ (Westcott ad loc.), who, by their denial that ‘Jesus is the Christ,’ deny in like manner the revelation of God as Father (2:22), and, consequently, the true union between God and man (4:3).
It is, therefore, into a very different atmosphere that we are introduced after the strange symbolism of the Apocalypse, and the scenic representation of the Pauline description. And one likes to think that the last word of Revelation on this mysterious topic is one which leaves it open to every one to apply to the spiritual workings of evil in his own heart, and in the world around him, a truth which has played so large a part in the history of God’s people in the past, and which may still pass through many varying and progressive applications, before it reaches its final fulfilment in the ‘dispensation of the fulness of the times’ (Ephesians 1:10).
J. On the interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12
Orig. c. Cels. 6:45 (ed. Koetschau 11. 116).
There are few passages in the N.T. for which more varied interpretations have been proposed than for 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12. It is impossible to attempt to give a full account of these here. But it may be well at least to indicate the main lines along which the exegesis of the passage has run. In doing so we shall follow as far as possible the historical order, for, though the different schools of interpreters cannot be rigidly distinguished according to periods of time, there have been on the whole certain clearly marked cycles in the method of interpretation applied to this difficult and mysterious passage.
1. The Ante-Nicene Church.
In the Early Church the ecclesiastical writers, amidst considerable differences in detail, agreed in regarding the whole passage as a prophecy which, at the time when they wrote, was still unfulfilled. Rightly interpreting the Parousia as the personal Return of the Lord for the Last Judgment, they saw in the Man of lawlessness an equally definite personality, who was to be manifested at the close of the world’s history, but who for the time being was held in check by a restraining influence, generally identified, from the time of Tertullianonwards, with the power of the Roman Empire.
Of this line of interpretation we find traces already in the Didache 16., and in Justin Martyr Dial. 110, and it is clearly enunciated by Irenaeus who presents a vivid picture of a personal Antichrist ‘diabolicam apostasiam in se recapitulans,’ and ‘seducens eos qui adorant eum, quasi ipse sit Christus’ (adv. Haer. 5:25. 1). Elsewhere (5:30. 2) he ascribes to Antichrist a Jewish origin, tracing his descent, in accordance with O.T. prophecy (Jeremiah 8:16), to the tribe of Dan—a view that was shared by Hippolytus (de Antichristo 100:14). Origen is equally definite in looking for a single being,
The Latin commentators follow on much the same lines. By ‘Ambrosiaster’ the Antichrist is not named, but, arising out of the circumcision he is to kill the saints and restore liberty to Rome. The working of this mystery of iniquity had already begun with Nero, who had killed the Apostles, and from him it had passed on to Diocletian and Julian. ‘Ambrosiaster’ appears to identify
Pelagius says pointedly ‘Nisi Antichristus uenerit, non ueniet Christus, ’ and then goes on to describe how the ‘homo peccati’ (‘diaboli scilicet’) will attempt to revive the Temple and its worship with the view of persuading the Jews to accept him ‘pro Christo.’ For this the false doctrines already at work were preparing the way: the only restraining influence was the ‘regnum, quodnunc tenet.’
Differences in this general view were naturally caused, according as
2 The Middle Ages.
During the earlier portion of the Middle Ages this prophetic interpretation of the passage as an inspired description of what was actually to happen in the great Day of the Lord continued to prevail, not however without such modifications as were required by the changing relations between Church and State, and the divisions that were arising within the Church itself. Already too there were increasing signs of the tendency, afterwards to become so marked, to find at least partial fulfilments of the prophecy in contemporary historical events.
Thus in the Eastern Church, struggling for bare existence against the forces of Islamism, Muhammad was readily identified with Antichrist, while in the Western Church the arrogant pretensions of some of the Church’s own rulers had already begun to lead to whispers of the possibility of a Papal Antichrist.It is a curious fact indeed that the first traces of such a view seem actually to have come from an occupant of the Papal See itself, when, towards the close of the sixth century, Gregory 1., in denouncing the claims of the contemporary Byzantine patriarch, went the length of saying that whoever arrogates to himself the title of ‘universal priest’ is a precursor of Antichrist and described the title as ‘erroris nomen, stultum ac superbum vocabulum, perversum, nefandum, scelestum vocabulum, nomen blasphemiae.’ Four centuries later Arnulph, Bishop of Orleans, declared much to the same effect at the Council of Rheims (a.d. 991) that if the Roman Pontiff was destitute of charity, and puffed up with knowledge, he was Antichrist. It was only therefore giving statements such as these a general application when in the twelfth century Joachim of Floris in his Enchiridion in Apocalypsim began to trace a correspondence between the warnings of the Apocalypse and the evils of his time—a mode of interpretation which another Franciscan, John Oliva, followed up by asserting that in the opinion of some Antichrist would be a ‘pseudo-papa.’
When such hints were thrown out within the Church itself, one can readily understand that they were eagerly laid hold of by all who, on grounds of liberty or morality, found themselves obliged to oppose the Roman hierarchy, and that the identification of the Papacy with Antichrist gradually became a commonplace amongst the sects. At first apparently it was only an individual that was thought of, but from this the transition was easy to a succession of individuals or a polity, as when Wycliffe asserted of the Pope generally that he did not seem to be ‘the vicar of Christ, but the vicar of Antichrist,’ and in the last year of his life (1384) wrote a treatise De Christo et suo adversario Antichristo, in which he identified the Pope with Antichrist for twelve reasons, many of these being applicable to the Pope as such.
3. The Reformed Church.
The reference of Antichrist to the Papal Hierarchy continued to be the prevailing view of the Reformers. And such stress was laid on it by Luther in the great controversial writings of 1520 and succeeding yearsthat it found a place in the Articles of Smalkald which, under his influence, were adopted in 1537 by a number of evangelical theologians as their rule of faith. In England both Houses of Convocation decreed in 1606 that ‘if any man shall affirm that the intolerable pride of the Bishop of Rome, for the time still being, … doth not argue him plainly to be the Man of Sin, mentioned by the Apostle, he doth greatly err.’ And a few years later the Translators of our A.V. complimented King James for having by means of his tractate Apologia pro Juramento Fidelitatis ‘given such a blow to that man of sin, as will not be healed.’ A section of the Westminster Confession of Faith is devoted to defending the same view. And, with a few honourable exceptions, the equation ‘the Pope, or the Papacy, is Antichrist’ may be said to have been the prevailing view of Protestant exegetes for a period of about two hundred years.
But not to dwell further on a system of interpretation which has nothing to commend it except the ease with which it lends itself to partisan purposes, it is of more importance to trace the rise of certain new methods of apocalyptic interpretation, which have powerfully affected the view taken of this passage in modern times.
4. Modern Views.
(1) Amongst these a prominent place must be given to the tendency to regard the whole conception in a purely ideal manner. Unable to agree with a method of interpretation in which personal references and animosities played so large a part, the followers of this system understood the passage in a general or spiritual sense. The concrete individual traits of the Pauline picture were wholly ignored, or else treated simply as symbolic representations of certain great principles always at work in the Church and the world.
Of this tendency C. L. Nitzsch is a striking example. In the Appendix to his Essays De Revelatione (1808), starting from the assumption that the
Others who followed in this direction, without perhaps going the same length, or losing sight so entirely of objective realities, were such expositors as Pelt in Germany, who lays down as a preliminary condition to his whole discussion that St Paul was looking for no visible Return of Christ, and Jowett in England, who for a guide to the Apostle’s meaning in this particularpassage lays stress on his ‘habitual thought’ as revealed in such passages as Colossians 2:8; Colossians 2:16, or the spiritual combat of Romans 7.
The practical advantages of this view are at once apparent. The prophecy is made universally applicable, and lessons can be drawn from it for all succeeding generations of readers, whatever the special circumstances in which they find themselves. But this result is only reached by depriving the very literal and precise statements of the passage of all definite meaning, and consequently we are not surprised to find that a large and influential body of English expositors, while applying the truths of the prophecy continuously throughout the whole course of the world’s history lay stress at the same time on their final and complete embodiment at the end of the days. Amongst supporters of this view it is sufficient to mention such names as Alford, Ellicott, Eadie, Alexander, Dods, and most recently Findlay, according to whom, ‘The ideal Antichrist conceived by Scripture, when actualized, will mould himself upon the lines of the Antichrists whose career the Church has already witnessed’ (p. 231). But however true this may be as an application of the Apostle’s words, it contributes little or nothing to their interpretation, or to the exact meaning they must have conveyed to their first writer or readers. So far from their conceiving an ‘ideal’ Antichrist, ‘there is scarcely,’ in Findlay’s own words already quoted elsewhere (p. 164), ‘a more matter-of-fact prediction in the Bible.’ And it is not until the expositor has succeeded in forming some idea of the genesis and reference of its varied details, that he can hope to apply with any degree of success the underlying law or principle to present-day needs. It is only therefore in keeping with the growth of the historical spirit that alongside of this more subjective school of criticism, there should have been a determined attempt to find the real key to the passage in the historical circumstances of the time when it was written.
For the rise of this method of interpretation, which is generally known as the praeterist or historical to distinguish it from the futurist or predictive method, we can go back as far as Grotius who in his Annotationes (Paris, 1644), starting from the untenable position that the Epistles were written in the second year of Caligula, found the fulfilment of the passage in that Emperor’s desire to set up a statue of himself in Jerusalem (Jos. Antt. 18. 261 (8. 2), cp. Suet. Calig. 22:33), the restraining power being the proconsul Vitellius, ‘vir aped Judaeos gratiosus et magnis exercitibus imperans,’ and the
Apart too from these distinctive references to the Imperial House another important band of scholars sought the apostasy referred to rather i in the revolt of the Jews from the Roman yoke—the restraining power being found either in their leaders who were against the revolt (Le Clerc), or in the prayers of the Christians who warded off for a time the destruction of Jerusalem (Schöttgen), or, if an individual had to be sought, in the influence of such a man as James the Just (Wieseler).
It soon became obvious indeed that this system lent itself to almost endless modifications and combinations in accordance with the predilections of its supporters. And we can understand therefore the relief with which in the beginning of last century an application of it was hailed, which for a time seemed to command widespread assent.
Its author was Kern who, starting with the postulate that the whole passage was written under the influence of the Apocalypse, found the Man of lawlessness in the widespread belief in Nero Redivivus, the restraining power in Vespasian and his son Titus, and the apostasy in the wickedness of the Jews in their war against the Romans. This line of interpretation was adopted by Baur, Weizsäcker, Holtzmann, and Schmiedel, to mention only a few representative names. But apart from the consideration that, if accepted, it would be fatal to the authenticity of the Epistle, in which we have already found good reason for believing (Intr. p. 76 ff.), it is wrecked on the fact that the
The real roots of his delineation are however, as we have already had occasion to notice, to be sought elsewhere. And it is one of the great services of what may be known as the traditional view to have drawn attention afresh to how largely the whole delineation grew out of the Jewish experiences of the Apostle. For not only did the uncompromising hostility of his Jewish fellow-countrymen suggest to St Paul the source whence the crowning development of evil was to manifest itself (see pp. 28, 31 f.), but he was led to fall back on O.T. prophecy and current Jewish Apocalyptic for the actual details which he worked up into his dread picture.
This line of interpretation is by no means new. From the earliest times the dependence of many traits in the Pauline Antichrist upon the godless king in Daniel have been clearly recognized. But it is only in more recent years that increasing knowledge of the sources has made it possible to trace systematically the Jewish tradition lying at the base of the N.T. passage. According to Bousset (Encyc. Bibl. col. 179) the credit of breaking fresh ground in this direction belongs to Schneckenburger. And now Bousset himself has endeavoured to carry the tradition still further back, and to find in the Antichrist legend ‘a later anthropomorphic transformation’ of the old Babylonian Dragon myth, which he regards as ‘one of the earliest evolved by primitive man.’ The data on which this theory is built up are too uncertain to make it more than a very plausible conjecture (cf. p. 159), nor, after all, even if it were more fully established, would it have any direct bearing on our inquiry, for certainly all thought of any such mythical origin of the current imagery was wholly absent from St Paul’s mind. In the meantime, then, we must be content with reemphasizing that it is to the Jewish apocryphal and pseudepigraphic writings, and especially to the prophetical books of the Greek O.T., and the eschatological teaching of Jesus, that we must principally look for light on the outward features of the Pauline representation.
the Third Sunday after Epiphany