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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
Thessalonians, Second Epistle to the
follows immediately after the first in all the texts and versions of the New Test.
I. Author. —
1. The external evidence in favor of the second epistle is somewhat more definite than that which can be brought in favor of the first. It seems to be referred to in one or two passages of Polycarp (3, 15, in Polyc. c. 11, and possibly 1, 4 in the same chapter; comp. Polyc. c. 3, and see Lardner, 2, 6); and the language in which Justin Martyr (Dial. p. 336 D) speaks of the Man of Sin is so similar that it can scarcely be independent of this epistle. With Irenseus the direct testimony commences (Adv. Hcer. 3, 7, 2): "And again in the second epistle to the Thessalonians, speaking concerning Antichrist, ‘ And then shall the ungodly one be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus Christ shall slay with the breath of his mouth,'" etc. (comp. 2 Thessalonians 2:8). Clemens Alexandrinus (Strom. 5, 554): "The apostle says, ‘ Pray that we may be delivered from perverse and wicked men, for all have not faith" (comp. 2 Thessalonians 3:2). Tertullian (De Res. Carnis, 24:339): "And in the second epistle to the same," viz. the Thessalonians, "with greater earnestness he says, ‘ I beseech you, brethren, by the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, etc., that ye be not soon moved in your mind, nor shaken, neither by spirit nor by word,'" etc. (comp. 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3).
The second epistle, like the first, is found in the canons of the Syriac and Old Latin versions, and in those of the-Muratorian fragment and of the heretic Marcion, and was universally received by the Church.
2. The internal character of the epistle, as in the former case, bears the strongest testimony to its Pauline origin (see Jowett, 1, 143). "The genuineness of this epistle, remarks Eichhorn, "follows from its contents. Its design is to correct the erroneous use which had been made of some things in the first epistle; and who but the writer of that first epistle would have set himself thus to such a task? It, however, appears that the author of the first must also be the author of the second; and, as the former is the production of Paul, we must ascribe the latter also to him. It was essential to the apostle's reputation that the erroneous consequences which had been deduced from his words should be refuted. Had he refrained from noticing the expectation built upon his words of the speedy return of Christ, his silence would have confirmed the conclusion that this was one of his peculiar doctrines; as such it would have passed to the succeeding generation; and when they perceived that in this Paul had been mistaken, what confidence could they have had in other parts of his teaching? The weight of this as an evidence of the genuineness of this Second Epistle to the Thessalonians acquires new strength from the fact that of all the other expressions in the epistle not one is opposed to any point either in the history or the doctrine of the apostle" (Einleit. ins N.T. 3, 69).
3. Notwithstanding these evidences in its favor, the genuineness of this epistle has been called into doubt by the restless scepticism of some of the German critics. The way here was led by John Ernest Chr. Schmidt, who, in 1801, published in his Bibliothek fü r Kritik und Exegese a tract entitled Vermuthungen ü ber die beiden Briefe an die Thessalonier, in which he impugned the genuineness of the first twelve verses of the second chapter. He afterwards, in his Einleitung, p. 256, enlarged his objections and applied them to the whole epistle. He has been followed by Schrader (Apostel Paulus), Kern (Tiibing. Zeitschrif. Theol. 1839, 2, 145), and Baur (Paulus der Apostel). De Wette at first condemned this epistle, but afterwards withdrew his condemnation and frankly accepted it as genuine. His cavils are more than usually frivolous,-and have been most fully replied to by Guericke (Beitrdge zur hist. — krit. Einleit. ins N.T. [Halle, 1828], p. 92-99), by Reiche (Authentiae Post. ad Thessalon. Epist. Vindiciae [Gö tt. 1829], and by Pelt, in the Prolegomena to his Commentary on the Epistles to the Thessalonians (p. 27). See also Grimm, in the Theol. Stud. u. Krit. 1850, p. 753 sq.; Lipsius, ibid. 1854, p. 905 sq.; Hilgenfeld, in his Zeitschr.f. wiss. Theol. 1862, p. 225 sq. It will thus be seen that this epistle has been rejected by some modern critics who acknowledge the first to be genuine. Such critics, of course, attribute no weight to arguments brought against the first, such as we have considered already. The Apocalyptic passage (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12) is the great stumbling-block to them. It has been objected to either as alluding to events subsequent to Paul's death — the Neronian persecution, for instance-or ‘ as betraying religious views derived from the Montanism of the 2nd century, or, lastly, as contradicting Paul's anticipations expressed elsewhere, especially in the first epistle, of the near approach of the Lord's advent. That there is no reference to Nero we shall endeavor to show presently. That the doctrine of an Antichrist did not start into being with Montanism is shown from the allusions of Jewish writers even before the Christian era (see Bertholdt, Christ. p. 69; Gfrorer, Jahrh. des Heils, 2, 257); and appears still more clearly from the passage of Justin Martyr referred to in the paragraph above. That the language used of the Lord's coming in the second epistle does not contradict, but rather supplement, the teaching of the first- postponing the day, indeed, but still anticipating its approach as possibly within the apostle's lifetime-may be gathered both from expressions in the passage itself (e.g. 2 Thessalonians 2:7," is already working") and from other parts of the epistle (1 Thessalonians 1:7-8), especially those which speak of the "signs" of the coming. Other special objections to the epistle will scarcely command a hearing, and must necessarily be passed over here.
II. Date. — There is the strongest reason for believing that this second epistle was written very soon after the first, and at the same place, viz. Corinth, A.D. cir. 50. The circumstances of the apostle while writing the one seem very much the same as they were while writing the other; nor do those of the Thessalonians present any greater difference than such as the influences referred to in the second epistle may be supposed in a very short time to have produced. What seems almost to decide the question is that, while writing the second epistle, the apostle had Timothy and Silas still with him. Now, after he left Corinth, it was not for a long time that either of these individuals was found again in his company (Acts 18:18; comp. 19:22); and with regard to one of them, Silas, there is no evidence that he and Paul were ever together at any subsequent period.
It will be seen presently that the teaching of the second epistle is corrective of, or rather supplemental to, that of the first, and therefore presupposes it. Moreover, the first epistle bears on its face evidence that it is the first gush of his affectionate yearnings towards his converts after his departure from Thessalonica; while, on the other hand, the second epistle contains a direct allusion to a previous letter, which may suitably be referred to the first-" Hold fast the tradition which ye were taught either by word or by letter from us" (2 Thessalonians 2:15). We can scarcely be wrong, therefore, in maintaining the received order of the two epistles. It is due, however, to the great names of Grotius and of Ewald (Jahrb. 3, 250; Sendschr. p. 16), who are followed in this by Baur, Hilgenfeld. Laurent, and Davidson, to mention that they reverse the order, placing the second epistle before the first in point of time - on different grounds, indeed, but both equally insufficient to disturb the traditional order, supported as it is by the considerations already alleged.
III. Occasion and Design. — In the former letter we saw chiefly the outpouring of strong personal affection occasioned by the renewal of the apostle's intercourse with the Thessalonians, and the doctrinal and hortatory portions are there subordinate. In the second epistle, on the other hand, his leading motive seems to have been the desire of correcting errors in the Church of Thessalonica. We notice two points especially which call forth his rebuke.
1. It seems that the anxious expectation of the Lord's advent, instead of subsiding, had gained ground since the writing of the first epistle. They now looked upon this great crisis as imminent, and their daily vocations were neglected in consequence. There were expressions in the first epistle which, taken by themselves, might seem to favor this view; and, at all events, such was falsely represented to be the apostle's doctrine. This notion some inculcated as a truth specially confirmed to them by the Spirit; others advocated it as part of the apostolic doctrine; and some claimed for it the specific support of Paul in a letter (2 Thessalonians 2:2). Whether the letter here referred to is the apostle's former epistle to the Thessalonians or one forged in his name by some keen and unscrupulous advocates of the notion above referred to is uncertain. The latter opinion has been very generally adopted from the time of Chrysostom downwards, and is certainly somewhat countenanced by the apostle's statement in the close of the epistle as to his autograph salutation being the mark of a genuine letter from him (2 Thessalonians 3:17). At the same time, it must be admitted that the probability of such a thing being done by any one at Thessalonica is, under all the circumstances of the case, not very strong. He now writes to soothe this restless spirit and quell their apprehensions by showing that many things must happen first, and that the end was not yet, referring to his oral teaching at Thessalonica in confirmation of this statement (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12).
2. The apostle had also a personal ground of complaint. His authority was not denied by any, but it was tampered with, and an unauthorized use was made of his name. It is difficult to ascertain the exact circumstances of the case from casual and indirect allusions, and indeed we may perhaps infer from the vagueness of the apostle's own language that he himself was not in possession of definite information; but, at all events, his suspicions were aroused. Designing men might misrepresent his teaching in two ways, either by suppressing what he actually had written or said, or by forging letters and in other ways representing him as teaching what he had not taught. Paul's language hints in different places at both these modes of false dealing. He seems to have entertained suspicions of this dishonesty even when he wrote the first epistle. At the close of that epistle he binds the Thessalonians by a solemn oath, "in the name of the Lord," to see that the epistle is read "to all the holy brethren" (1 Thessalonians 5:27) a charge unintelligible in itself, and only to be explained by supposing some misgivings in the apostle's mind. Before the second epistle was written his suspicions seem to have been confirmed, for there are two passages which allude to these misrepresentations of his teaching... In the first of these he tells them in vague language, which may refer equally well to a false interpretation put upon his own words in the first epistle, or to a supplemental letter forged in his name, "not to be troubled either by spirit or by word or by letter, as coming from us as if the day of the Lord were at hand. They are not to be deceived," he adds, "by any one, whatever means he employs" (κατὰ μηδένα τρόπον , 1 Thessalonians 2:2-3). In the second passage, at the close of the epistle, he says, "The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is a token in every epistle: so I write" (2 Thessalonians 3:17) evidently a precaution against forgery. With these two passages should be combined the expression in 2 Thessalonians 3:14, from which we infer that he now entertained a fear of direct opposition "If any man obey not our word conveyed by our epistle, note that man."
IV. Eschatology. — The most striking feature in the epistle is the apocalyptic passage, announcing the revelation of the Man of Sin (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12); and it will not be irrelevant to investigate its meaning, bearing, as it does, on the circumstances under which the epistle was written, and illustrating this aspect of the apostle's teaching. He had dwelt much on the subject; for he appeals to the Thessalonians as knowing this truth, and reminds them that he told them these things when he was yet with them. The following considerations may help to clear up this obscure subject.
1. The passage speaks of a great apostasy which is to usher in the advent of Christ, the great judgment. There are three prominent figures in the picture — Christ, Antichrist, and the Restrainer. Antichrist is described as the Man of Sin, the Son of Perdition, as the Adversary who exalteth himself above all that is called God, as making himself out to be God. Later on (for apparently the reference is the same) he is styled the "mystery of lawlessness," "the lawless one." The Restrainer is in one place spoken of in the masculine as a person (ὁ κατέχων ), in another in the neuter as a power, an influence (τὸ κατέχον ). The "mystery of lawlessness" is already at work. At present it is checked by the Restrainer; but the check will be removed, and then it will break out in all its violence. Then Christ will appear, and the enemy shall be consumed by the breath of his mouth, shall be brought to naught by the splendor of his presence.
2. Many different explanations have been offered of this passage. Each generation and each section in the Church has regarded it as a prophecy of that particular power which seemed to them and in their own time to be most fraught with evil to the true faith. A good account of these manifold interpretations will be found in Linemann's commentary on the epistle, p. 204, Schlussbem. zu 2, 1-12 (see also Alford, Proleg.). By one class of interpreters it has been referred to circumstances which passed within the circle of the apostle's own experience, the events of his own lifetime, or the period immediately following. Others, again, have seen in it the prediction of a crisis yet to be realized, the end of all things. The former of these, the Praeterists, have identified the Man of Sin with divers historical characters, and have sought for a historical counterpart to the Restrainer in like manner. Among them may be mentioned Grotius, Wettstein, Whitby, Schö ttgen, Nosselt, Krause, and Kern. Agreeing, however, in the main point of a past accomplishment, these writers differ widely from each other in the details of interpretation. The Man of Sin was, according to Grotius, Caligula; according to Wettstein, Titus; according to Hammond, Simon Magus; by many (Whitby, Le Clerc, etc.) the Jewish people are thought to have been thus indicated in their opposition to Christianity and to the Roman power (τὸ κατέχον ). Commentators of this class are, of course, compelled to consider the coming of Christ as already past, i.e. to interpret it of the destruction of Jerusalem; and this alone seems to render the view untenable. For Paul's description of the parousia, or appearance, of Christ (1 Thessalonians 2:19) is far too exalted to correspond to any temporal event. The latter class of interpreters, the Futurists, have also given various accounts of the Antichrist, the mysterious power of evil which is already working. We hold, in general terms, that this view is substantially right, i.e. that the prophecy, however it may have been partially fulfilled in the past, yet awaits its complete fulfillment. But among the advocates of the Futurist opinion also differences of opinion prevail. To the Greek Church the Man of Sin was Mohammed, and the "mystery of iniquity" is Mohammedanism, which, it is held, will yet culminate in some fearfully Antichristian form. From the middle of the 11th century the pope began to be considered the predicted Antichrist, and this view, as might have been expected, became the prevalent one in all the Protestant churches.
By way of retaliation, Romanists maintained that Luther and Protestantism are pointed at in the passage. This seems to show the danger of limiting the prophecy to any one form of Antichristian error. John writes that even in his time there were many antichrists" (1 John 2:18); the one he specifies as denying that "Jesus Christ had come in the flesh" is descriptive neither of Mohammed nor of the pope nor of Luther, but of the Gnostics. Many of the features of Antichrist as portrayed by Paul no doubt present themselves in the papacy, but others hardly so. At any rate, the papacy, so far as it contains elements of impiety, seems to have reached its culminating point; perhaps did so three hundred years ago, and yet Christ has not come. We are disposed, therefore, to adopt the view that there have been, since the prophecy was written, many partial manifestations of Antichristian error the Gnostics, the Judaizing tendencies of the 1st century, Mohammed, the papacy, the French Revolution, etc.; but that there still is in prospect some mystery of iniquity which will combine in itself the several evil tendencies which the Church has already witnessed, but in a greatly intensified form; and probably that this final outburst of impiety will be embodied in a personal head or representative, the Man of Sin of our epistle. His appearance will be the signal for the second advent of Christ. As regards the Restrainer (ὁ κα τέχων, τὸ κατέχον ), the view of the fathers does not seem far wrong— viz. that Paul obscurely alludes to the temporal power (in his and their day the Roman empire), by which the excesses of lawless licentiousness are, to some extent, held in check. Hence, in Paul's view, the mission of the State as such was a divine one (Romans 13). (See ANTICHRIST).
3. More particularly, therefore, in arbitrating between the Praeterists and the Futurists, we are led by the analogy of other prophetic announcements, as well as by the language of the passage itself, to take a middle course. Neither is wholly right, and yet both are, to a certain extent, right. It is the special characteristic of prophecy to speak of the distant future through the present and immediate. The persons and events falling within the horizon of the prophet's own view are the types and ‘ representatives of greater figures and crises far off, and as yet but dimly discerned. Thus the older prophets, while speaking of a delivery from the temporary oppression of Egypt or Babylon, spoke also of Messiah's kingdom. Thus our Lord himself, foretelling the doom, which was even then hanging over the holy city, glances at the future judgment of the world as typified and portrayed in this; and the two are so interwoven that it is impossible to disentangle them. (See DOUBLE SENSE).
Following this analogy, we may agree with the Praeterists that Paul is referring to events which fell under his own cognizance; for indeed the Restrainer is said to be restraining now, and the mystery of iniquity to be already working; while, at the same time, we may accept the Futurist view, that the apostle is describing the end of all things, and that therefore the prophecy has not yet received its most striking and complete fulfillment. This commingling of the immediate and partial with the final and universal manifestation of God's judgments, characteristic of all prophecy, is rendered more easy in Paul's case, because he seems to have contemplated the end of all things as possibly, or even probably, near at hand; and therefore the: particular manifestation of Antichrist, which he witnessed with his own eyes, would naturally be merged in and identified with the final Antichrist, in which the opposition to the Gospel will culminate. (See ESCHATOLOGY).
4. If this view be correct, it remains to inquire what particular adversary of the Gospel, and what particular restraining influence, Paul may have had primarily in view. But, before attempting to approximate to an explanation; we may clear the way by laying down two rules.
(1.) The imagery of the passage must be interpreted mainly by itself, and by the circumstances of the time. The symbols may be borrowed in some cases from the Old Test.; they may reappear in other parts of the New. But we cannot be sure that the same image denotes exactly the same thing in both cases. The language describing the Man of Sin is borrowed, to some extent, from the representation of Antiochus Epiphanes in the Book of Daniel, but Antiochlus cannot be meant here. The great adversary in the Revelation seems to be the Roman power, but it may be widely different here. There were even in the apostolic age "many antichrists;" and we cannot be sure that the Antichrist present to the mind of Paul was the same with the Antichrist contemplated by John.
(2.) In all figurative passages it is arbitrary to assume that a person is denoted where we find a personification. Thus the Man of Sin here need not be an individual man; it may be a body of men, or a power, a spiritual influence. In the case of the Restrainer we seem to have positive ground for: so interpreting it, since in one passage the neuter gender is used, "the thing which restraineth" (τὸ κατέχον ), as if synonymous. (See Jowett, Essay on the Man of Sin, 1, 178, rather for suggestions as to the mode of interpretation than for the conclusion he arrives at; also Cowles, in the Biblioth. Sacra, 29:623.) (See MAN OF SIN).
5. When we inquire definitely, then, what Paul had immediately in view when he spoke of the Man of Sin and the Restrainer, we can only hope to get even an approximate answer by investigating the circumstances of the apostle's life at this epoch. Now we find that the chief opposition to the Gospel, and especially to Paul's preaching at this time, arose from the Jews. The Jews had conspired against the apostle and his companions at Thessalonica, and he only saved himself by secret flight. Thence they followed him to Beroea, which he hurriedly left in the same way. At Corinth, whence the letters to the Thessalonians were written, they persecuted him still further, raising a cry of treason against him, and bringing him before the Roman proconsul. These incidents explain the strong expressions he uses of them in these epistles: "They slew the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and persecuted the apostles; they are hateful to God; they are the common enemies of mankind, whom the Divine wrath (ἡ ὀργή ) at length overtakes" (1 Thessalonians 2:15-16). With these facts in view, it seems, on the whole, probable that the Antichrist, in its primary aspect, is represented especially by Judaism. With a prophetic insight the apostle foresaw, as he contemplated the moral and political condition of the race, the approach of a great and overwhelming catastrophe. And it is not improbable that our Lord's predictions of the vengeance which threatened Jerusalem blended with the apostle's vision, and gave as color to this passage. If it seem strange that "lawlessness" should be mentioned as the distinguishing feature of those whose very zeal for "the law" stimulated their opposition to the Gospel, we may appeal to our Lord's own words (Matthew 23:28) describing the Jewish teachers, "within they are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (ἀνομίας )."
Corresponding to this view of the Antichrist, we shall probably be correct, as already suggested, in regarding the Roman empire as the restraining power, for so it was taken by many of the fathers, though without altogether understanding its bearing. It was to Roman justice and Roman magistrates that the apostle had recourse at this time to shield him from the enmity of the Jews, and to check their violence. At Philippi, his Roman citizenship extorted an ample apology for ill-treatment. At Thessalonica, Roman law secured him fair play. At Corinth, a Roman proconsul acquitted him of frivolous charges brought by the Jews. It was only at a later date under Nero that Rome became the antagonist of Christendom, and then she also, in turn, was fitly portrayed by John as the type of Antichrist. Whether the Jewish opposition to the Gospel entirely exhausted Paul's own conception of the "mystery of lawlessness" as he saw it "already working" in his own day, or whether other elements did not also combine with this to complete the idea, it is impossible to say; but we may presume that he had at least a dim and general anticipation of the more distant future, and at least of the final earthly catastrophe which the Divine Spirit intimates in this striking prediction. Moreover, at this distance of time and with our imperfect information, we cannot hope to explain the exact bearing of all the details in the picture. But, following the guidance of history, we seem justified in adopting this as a probable, though only a partial, explanation of a very difficult passage. (See REVELATION, BOOK OF).
V. Contents. — This epistle, in the range of subject as well as in style and general character, closely resembles the first; and the remarks made on that epistle apply, for the most part, equally well to this. The structure, also, is somewhat similar, the main body of the epistle being divided into two parts in the same way, and each part closing with a prayer (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17; 2 Thessalonians 3:16; both commencing with αὐτὸς δὲ κύριος ). The following is a tabular summary:
The opening salutation (2 Thessalonians 1:1-2).
I. A general expression of thankfulness and interest, leading up to the difficulty about the Lord's advent (2 Thessalonians 1:3 to 2 Thessalonians 2:17).
1. The apostle pours forth his thanksgiving for their progress in the faith; he encourages them to be patient under persecution, reminding them of the judgment to come, and prays that they may be prepared to meet it (2 Thessalonians 1:3-12).
2. He is thus led to correct the erroneous idea that the judgment is imminent, pointing out that much must happen first (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12).
3. He repeats his thanksgiving and exhortation, and concludes this portion with a prayer (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17).
II. Direct exhortation (2 Thessalonians 3:1-16).
1. He urges them to pray for him, and confidently anticipates their progress in the faith (2 Thessalonians 3:1-5).
2. He reproves the idle, disorderly, and disobedient, and charges the faithful to withdraw from such (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15).
This portion again closes with a prayer (2 Thessalonians 3:16). The epistle ends with a special direction and benediction (2 Thessalonians 3:17-18).
VI. Commentaries. — The following exegetical helps are on the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians exclusively: Hoffmann, Commentarius [includ. Titus] (Francof. 1545, 8vo); Bradshaw,: Exposition (Lond. 1620, 4to); Jackson, Exposition (ibid. 1621, 4to); Reiche, Authentiae, etc. (Gö tt. 1829, 4to); Sclater, Exposition (Lond. 1629, 4to). (See EPISTLE).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Thessalonians, Second Epistle to the'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/t/thessalonians-second-epistle-to-the.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27