the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the Bible Kretzmann's Commentary
- 1 Thessalonians
by Paul E. Kretzmann
The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Thessalonians
The city of Thessalonica, now known as Saloniki, is situated at the head of what was formerly called the Thermaic Gulf (the ancient name of the city having been Therma, from the hot springs in the neighborhood), but is now known as the Gulf of Saloniki, a part of the Aegean Sea. By reason of its location this city was a great commercial center, being the capital of Macedonia and the largest city on the Balkan Peninsula until Byzantium, or Constantinople, was built. Even at the present time its excellent harbor is the chief factor in keeping Saloniki in its position as the second largest city of what was formerly European Turkey. Since about 315 B. C. , the city has borne the name Thessalonica, either on account of a victory over the Thessalonians which Philip of Macedonia won in the neighborhood, or in honor of Philip's daughter, who was married to Cassander. At the time of St. Paul the city was inhabited chiefly by Greeks, with some Romans and a considerable number of Jews who were attracted there on account of its commerce. During the medieval period the city belonged for a time to the Venetians, from whom, in 1430, it was captured by the Turks, who, in turn, were forced to give up the territory in which the city is situated during the last Balkan War. The city rises from the sea in the form of an amphitheater, and presents a mixture of squalor and splendor. "In Saloniki may still be seen vestiges of Cyclopean and Hellenic walls, triumphal arches, and remains of Roman temples, Byzantine structures, and Venetian castles"
The congregation at Thessalonica had been founded by Paul on his second missionary journey. When he left Philippi after his imprisonment, Acts 16:19-40, he traveled along the great Roman highway, the Via Egnatia, reaching Thessalonica with his companions Silvanus, or Silas, and Timothy on the third day. The history of the founding of the congregation is recorded Acts 17:1-10, For at least three weeks Paul was able to preach the Gospel without hindrance and with considerable success. Some few Jews accepted the message of salvation, but Luke's account speaks especially of Hellenist proselytes, of such Greeks as had adopted the religion of the Jews and of representative women of the city. These men and women formed the nucleus, or stock, of the Thessalonian congregation. Owing to the uprising instigated by the unbelieving Jews the brethren urged Paul to leave the city after only a short time. But although the apostle was obliged to leave the continuation of his work in Thessalonica to others and did not visit the city again for several years, he retained his interest in the congregation and remained united with the brethren by the bonds of a most intimate love. From Athens, where he went after being driven from Berea, Paul sent his assistant Timothy to strengthen the congregation and to obtain information concerning its welfare, 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5; Acts 17:14-15.
Timothy rejoined the apostle at Corinth, and the news which he brought concerning the Thessalonian congregation caused the apostle to write his first letter. In general, the report had been favorable. The members of the young congregation had remained firm in their faith in spite of the persecution which had come upon them, and had become shining examples of faith and love. Nevertheless they felt the affliction of persecution both from the Gentiles and from the Jews. Incidentally the continual example and temptation of the heathen, in the form of immorality, fraud, and quarrels, were a menace to the weaker brethren. But in one point particularly the Thessalonian Christians were in need of instruction, namely that concerning the second coming of Christ. Some of them were anxious about the fate of their departed relatives and friends, others mere inclined to enthusiasm and neglected their work, with the idea that the last day was so near that it was useless to work at one's calling; still others brooded about the exact date of the Lord's coming. Paul's first letter to the congregation took these points into consideration. The first part, after the greeting, contains a loving admonition to constancy in spite of all tribulations and false insinuations on the part of Judaizing opponents. The second part refers especially to the dangers connected with the sinful life of the heathen. The third part contains doctrinal information concerning the second coming of Christ and the proper behavior of the Christians in view of this event. The letter closes with a few admonitions and the customary greeting.