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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

1 Thessalonians

- 1 Thessalonians

by Robert Jamieson; A. R. Fausset; David Brown

The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Thessalonians
Commentary by A. R. Faussett


The Authenticity of this Epistle is attested by Irenaeus [Against Heresies, 5.6.1], quoting 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Clement of Alexandria [The Instructor, 1.88], quoting 1 Thessalonians 2:7; Tertullian [On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 24], quoting 1 Thessalonians 5:1; Caius in Eusebius‘ Ecclesiastical History [6.20]; Origen [Against Celsus, 3].

The Object of the Epistle. Thessalonica was at this time capital of the Roman second district of Macedonia [Livy, Histories, 45.29]. It lay on the bay of Therme, and has always been, and still is, under its modern name Saloniki, a place of considerable commerce. After his imprisonment and scourging at Philippi, Paul (1 Thessalonians 2:2) passed on to Thessalonica; and in company with Silas (Acts 17:1-9) and Timotheus (Acts 16:3; Acts 17:14, compare with 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:1-6; 2 Thessalonians 1:1) founded the Church there. The Jews, as a body, rejected the Gospel when preached for three successive sabbaths (Acts 17:2); but some few “believed and consorted with Paul and Silas, and of the devout (that is, proselytes to Judaism) Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.” The believers received the word joyfully, notwithstanding trials and persecutions (1 Thessalonians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:13) from their own countrymen and from the Jews (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16). His stay at Thessalonica was doubtless not limited to the three weeks in which were the three sabbaths specified in Acts 17:2; for his laboring there with his hands for his support (1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8), his receiving supplies there more than once from Philippi (Philippians 4:16), his making many converts from the Gentiles (1 Thessalonians 1:9; and as two oldest manuscripts read, Acts 17:4, “of the devout and of the Greeks a great multitude,” Acts 17:4), and his appointing ministers - all imply a longer residence. Probably as at Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:46), at Corinth (Acts 18:6, Acts 18:7), and at Ephesus (Acts 19:8, Acts 19:9), having preached the Gospel to the Jews, when they rejected it, he turned to the Gentiles. He probably thenceforth held the Christian meetings in the house of Jason (Acts 17:5), perhaps “the kinsman” of Paul mentioned in Romans 16:21. His great subject of teaching to them seems to have been the coming and kingdom of Christ, as we may infer from 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:12, 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, 1 Thessalonians 5:24; and that they should walk worthy of it (1 Thessalonians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 4:1). And it is an undesigned coincidence between the two Epistles and Acts 17:5, Acts 17:9, that the very charge which the assailants of Jason‘s house brought against him and other brethren was, “These do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.” As in the case of the Lord Jesus Himself (John 18:33-37; John 19:12; compare Matthew 26:64), they perverted the doctrine of the coming kingdom of Christ into a ground for the charge of treason against Caesar. The result was, Paul and Silas were obliged to flee under the cover of night to Berea; Timothy had probably preceded him (Acts 17:10, Acts 17:14). But the Church had been planted, and ministers appointed; nay, more, they virtually became missionaries themselves for which they possessed facilities in the extensive commerce of their city, and both by word and example were extending the Gospel in Macedonia, Achaia, and elsewhere (1 Thessalonians 1:7, 1 Thessalonians 1:8). From Berea, also. Paul, after having planted a Scripture-loving Church, was obliged to flee by the Thessalonian Jews who followed him thither. Timothy (who seems to have come to Berea separately from Paul and Silas, compare Acts 17:10, with Acts 17:14) and Silas remained there still, when Paul proceeded by sea to Athens. While there he more than once longed to visit the Thessalonians again, and see personally their spiritual state, and “perfect that which was lacking in their faith” (1 Thessalonians 3:10); but (probably using the Thessalonian Jews as his instruments, John 13:27) “Satan hindered” him (1 Thessalonians 2:18; compare Acts 17:13). He therefore sent Timotheus, who seems to have followed him to Athens from Berea (Acts 17:15), immediately on his arrival to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:1); glad as he would have been of Timothy‘s help in the midst of the cavils of Athenian opponents, he felt he must forego that help for the sake of the Thessalonian Church. Silas does not seem to have come to Paul at Athens at all, though Paul had desired him and Timothy to “come to him with all speed” (Acts 17:15); but seems with Timothy (who from Thessalonica called for him at Berea) to have joined Paul at Corinth first; compare Acts 18:1, Acts 18:5, “When Silas and Timothy were come from Macedonia.” The Epistle makes no mention of Silas at Athens, as it does of Timothy (1 Thessalonians 3:1).

Timothy‘s account of the Thessalonian Church was highly favorable. They abounded in faith and charity and reciprocated his desire to see them (1 Thessalonians 3:6-10). Still, as nothing human on earth is perfect, there were some defects. Some had too exclusively dwelt on the doctrine of Christ‘s coming kingdom, so as to neglect the sober-minded discharge of present duties (1 Thessalonians 4:11, 1 Thessalonians 4:12). Some who had lost relatives by death, needed comfort and instruction in their doubts as to whether they who died before Christ‘s coming would have a share with those found alive in His kingdom then to be revealed. Moreover, also, there had been committed among them sins against chastity and sobriety (1 Thessalonians 5:5-7), as also against charity (1 Thessalonians 4:3-10; 1 Thessalonians 5:13, 1 Thessalonians 5:15). There were, too, symptoms in some of want of respectful love and subordination to their ministers; others treated slightingly the manifestations of the Spirit in those possessing His gifts (1 Thessalonians 5:19). To give spiritual admonition on these subjects, and at the same time commend what deserved commendation, and to testify his love to them, was the object of the Epistle.

The Place of Writing was doubtless Corinth, where Timothy and Silas rejoined him (Acts 18:5) soon after he arrived there (compare 1 Thessalonians 2:17) in the autumn of a.d. 52.

The Time of Writing was evidently immediately after having received from Timothy the tidings of their state (1 Thessalonians 3:6) in the winter of a.d. 52, or early in 53. For it was written not long after the conversion of the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 1:8, 1 Thessalonians 1:9), while Paul could speak of himself as only taken from them for a short season (1 Thessalonians 2:17). Thus this Epistle was first in date of all Paul‘s extant Epistles. The Epistle is written in the joint names of Paul, Silas, and Timothy, the three founders of the Thessalonian Church. The plural first person “we,” is used everywhere, except in 1 Thessalonians 2:18; 1 Thessalonians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:27. “We” is the true reading, 1 Thessalonians 4:13. The English Version “I,” in 1 Thessalonians 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:1, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, is not supported by the original [Edmunds].

The Style is calm and equable, in accordance with the subject matter, which deals only with Christian duties in general, taking for granted the great doctrinal truths which were not as yet disputed. There was no deadly error as yet to call forth his more vehement bursts of feeling and impassioned argument. The earlier Epistles, as we should expect, are moral and practical. It was not until Judaistic and legalizing errors arose at a later period that he wrote those Epistles (for example, Romans and Galatians) which unfold the cardinal doctrines of grace and justification by faith. Still, later the Epistles from his Roman prison confirm the same truths. And last of all, the Pastoral Epistles are suited to the more developed ecclesiastical constitution of the Church, and give directions as to bishops and deacons, and correct abuses and errors of later growth.

The prevalence of the Gentile element in this Church is shown by the fact that these two Epistles are among the very few of Paul‘s writings in which no quotation occurs from the Old Testament.