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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Thessalonians, Second Epistle to the

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THESSALONIANS, SECOND EPISTLE TO THE

1. Occasion and date . Scattered indications fix the letter (if genuine) as written from Corinth, not long after the First Epistle. For Timothy and Silas (Silvanus) are still with the Apostle ( 2 Thessalonians 1:1 , cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:1 ), whereas in Acts there is no further mention of Silas after St. Paul left Corinth. The former letter seems to be referred to ( 2 Thessalonians 2:15 ), and the allusions to St. Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica suggest that this was almost as recent as when 1 Th. was written. Very possibly 2 Thessalonians 3:2 is to be explained by the opposition encountered at Corinth, recorded in Acts 18:1-28 . The reasons for a second letter are hardly evident in any considerable difference of subject-matter; they appear to consist in tidings which had reached St. Paul as to (1) some misunderstanding of his teaching about the Parousia ( Acts 2:1-3 ); (2) increase of persecution ( Acts 1:4-10 ); (3) disorderly conduct in some members of the Church ( Acts 3:11 ); (4) letters forged in the Apostle’s name ( Acts 2:2 , Acts 3:17 ).

2. Contents .

Salutation (Acts 1:1-2 ); thanksgiving (with prayer) for their growth in faith and love in the midst of affliction patiently endured, with assurance of God’s vengeance upon their persecutors ( Acts 1:3-12 ); warning that the ‘day of the Lord’ is not yet, but must be heralded by certain signs ( Acts 2:1-12 ); renewed thanksgiving, exhortation, and prayer ( Acts 2:13-17 ). St. Paul asks for their prayers ( Acts 3:1-2 ), expresses his confidence in them ( Acts 3:3-5 ), warns them against the ‘disorderly’ ( Acts 3:6-15 ); and between repeated benedictions authenticates the letter by his signature ( Acts 3:16-18 ).

3. Authenticity

(1) External testimony . The evidence already cited for 1 Th. Is reinforced by quotations in Polycarp, and possibly in Justin Martyr; that is, of the two Epistles the Second is the more strongly attested.

(2) Internal evidence . Circumstances have already been assigned to the letter, in themselves consistent and not improbable. To these may be added the close resemblance to 1 Th. in subject-matter and phrasing, so obvious that it need not here be detailed. A literary dependence of 2 Th. on 1 Th. is practically certain, for the interval necessary to justify a second letter at all forbids the supposition of unconscious repetition. if 2 Th. is by St. Paul, he must have re-read his former letter before writing this, and the question naturally arises whether it is likely that he would so reproduce himself. (The case of Colossians and Ephesians is not parallel: these were contemporary Epistles, and not addressed to the same Church.) Hence the resemblance to 1 Th. is made an argument against the Pauline authorship of 2 Th. Moreover, along with the resemblance are found other features which are regarded as un-Pauline and post-Pauline, with the result that the Second Epistle is widely rejected by those who admit the First. The grounds of this rejection must be briefly examined.

( a ) Style . It is freely admitted that this argument is hazardous and indecisive: those who rely upon it would not perhaps quarrel with Jowett’s dictum that ‘objections of this kind are, for the most part, matters of taste or feeling, about which it is useless to dispute’ ( Com. on Th. i. 147). The argument must also reckon with those evident features of Pauline style and vocabulary which the close resemblance of some two-thirds of the Ep. to 1 Th. carries with it, while in the remainder what is exceptional may be due to the new subject-matter. Still, it may be argued that some of the passages which are most closely parallel to 1 Th. show a loss of ease and simplicity which suggests that they have been worked over by another hand. There is a difference, hard to account for m the same writer saying the same thing after so short an interval; nor is the change such as marks advance towards the style of St. Paul’s later letters.

( b ) Subject-matter (apart from 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 ). As compared with 1 Th., very little appears in 2 Th. that is new or convincingly Pauline: something, too, of the warmth and glow of personal feeling has gone. The severity of tone in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9 cannot perhaps be objected to, in view of 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 , while 1 Thessalonians 3:6-13 is sufficiently accounted for by an aggravation of the offence already rebuked ( 1 Thessalonians 4:11 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:14 ). The reference to an ‘epistle as from us’ ( 2 Thessalonians 2:2 ) suggests an earlier correspondence of St. Paul with his Churches, of which we have no knowledge, frequent enough to have already given rise to fraudulent imitation. This is not impossible, though the precaution of a certifying signature ( 2 Thessalonians 3:17 ) may seem, perhaps, a little inadequate.

( c ) The passage 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 . The objection that this contradicts the eschatology of 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3 cannot be sustained. The earlier passage speaks of a coming of ‘the day of the Lord,’ sudden and unexpected: if this had been misinterpreted of a coming so imminent as to cause the ordinary duties of life to lose interest or claim, the Apostle might well, without in consistency, remind the Thessalonians that he had warned them of signs which must first be fulfilled ( 2 Thessalonians 2:3-5 ).

A more serious doubt is raised by the apocalyptic character of the passage, unique in Paul, and held to show both dependence on later writings and allusion to post-Pauline history. So far, however, as the thought is exceptional, the section may fairly be regarded as a pendant to the equally exceptional section 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 (cf. also Romans 7:1-6 , Galatians 4:21-31 ), and as more likely to be original than attributed to Paul by a later imitator. The question rather is whether it can be accounted for by contemporary ideas, or betrays the facts and conceptions of a later time. The general thought is that the coming of Christ is to be heralded by an outburst of iniquity, described as the ‘apostasy’ (‘falling away,’ 2 Thessalonians 2:3 ), either headed by or personified as ‘the man of sin’ (RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ‘the man of lawlessness’), ‘the son of perdition,’ ‘the lawless one’ ( 2 Thessalonians 2:3 ; 2 Thessalonians 2:8 ) whose character and coming are more fully described in 2 Thessalonians 2:4 ; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 . Already ‘the mystery of lawlessness’ is at work ( 2 Thessalonians 2:7 ), but the crisis is delayed, as the Thessalonians know, by ‘that which restraineth’ ( 2 Thessalonians 2:6 ), ‘one who restrains’ ( 2 Thessalonians 2:7 ). In due season this restraint will be removed, that the lawless one may be revealed, to be slain by the Lord Jesus ( 2 Thessalonians 2:6-8 ).

Now, of the elements of this conception, that of an ‘apostasy’ is not un-Pauline: it appears 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 , Romans 16:17-20 (as well as Acts 20:29-30 , and throughout the Pastoral Epp.), and is attributed to false teachers. The same idea occurs in Matthew 24:5 ; Matthew 24:11-12 ; Matthew 24:24 ||, 2Peter. and Jude, 1 John 2:18 ; 1 John 2:22 ; 1 John 4:3 , 2 John 1:7 . This wide prevalence of the thought in the NT writings, and the constant prediction of ‘many’ false teachers, false prophets, false Christs, antichrists ( 1 John 2:18 ), may suggest as regards our passage (1) that it draws upon a common stock of eschatological ideas; (2) that ‘the man of sin’ is not necessarily a person but rather a type (cf. 1 John 2:18 , ‘ many antichrists,’ but 1 John 2:22 and elsewhere ‘ the antichrist’), symbolizing tendencies and movements, and therefore only at grave hazard to be identified with any definite historical personage. Hence the alleged reference to the legend of ‘Nero redivivus’ (Tac. Hist. ii. 8), with its implication of a.d. 68 70 as the earliest possible date for 2 Th., is quite without warrant.

It is true that our passage has close affinities with Revelation (especially Revelation 13:11-18 ; Revelation 19:20-21 ; Revelation 20:10 ), but this does not necessarily mean dependence. For Ezekiel 38:1-23 ; Ezekiel 39:1-29 , Daniel 7:1-28 ; Daniel 8:1-27 ; Daniel 9:1-27 ; Daniel 11:1-45 ; Daniel 12:1-13 , and later extra-canonical Jewish apocalyptic literature present, under varied historic colouring, the same conception of a final rally of the powers of evil before the last days, and of the triumph of Messiah over ‘antichrist.’ In Test. xii. Patr . this anti-christ’ is ‘Belial’ or ‘Beliar’ (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:15 ), in Rev. ‘the beast’ (symbol of the Roman Empire rather than exclusively of Nero), and it is not necessary to regard ‘the man of sin’ and equivalent expressions as more personal than these. What is really peculiar to 2 Th. is the assertion of a restraining power , holding in check the mystery of lawlessness already at work . Can this be explained as historical colour given by St. Paul to current apocalyptic tradition under the circumstances of a.d. 53 or thereabouts?

Now, at that date the Apostle of the Gentiles had lately experienced the determined enmity of the Jews to his whole Christian mission, at Thessalonica, Berœa, and Corinth. Though the Parousia is not yet (2 Thessalonians 2:2 ), St. Paul expects it within his own lifetime ( 1 Thessalonians 4:17 ). The traditional ‘antichrist’ is therefore already to be looked for ( 2 Thessalonians 2:7 ), and might well be discovered in Jewish hatred, bent on the very destruction of Christianity ( 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 ), fortified by its secure hold of the national sanctuary ( 2 Thessalonians 2:4 ), and held in restraint only by the forces of order seated in the Roman power, or, possibly, in the better elements of Judaism itself ( 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 ). Thus interpreted, the passage would be a development on apocalyptic lines of the outburst of 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10 , and no necessity would remain for the suggestion, quite unsupported by evidence, that 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 either is an interpolation, or is itself a genuine Pauline fragment worked up in to a spurious Epistle.

So far, then, as doubts concerning 2 Th. are reduced to argument, they can hardly prevail against the tradition of Pauline authorship. Whether misgivings as to style can be relieved by the suggestion that Timothy or Silas wrote in the Apostle’s name is doubtful; at least, the repeated ‘we’ points to no such co-operation (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:17 to 1 Thessalonians 3:1 ). The trend of present critical opinion is perhaps indicated in Jülicher’s judgment, that the difficulties ‘can after all be most easily solved’ under the view that the Epistle was written by St. Paul.

S. W. Green.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Thessalonians, Second Epistle to the'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/t/thessalonians-second-epistle-to-the.html. 1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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