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Thessalonians, First Epistle to the,

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is the eighth in order of the Pauline epistles as found in the New Test., but the first in point of chronological date, and immediately followed by the second bearing a corresponding title.

I. Authorship and Canonicity. The external evidence in favor of the genuineness of the First Epistle to the Thessalonians is chiefly negative, but this is important enough. There is no trace that it was ever disputed at any age or in any section of the Church, or even by any individual, till the present century. On the other hand, the allusions to it in writers before the close of the 2nd century are confessedly faint and uncertain a circumstance easily explained when we remember the character of the epistle itself, its comparatively simple diction, its silence on the most important doctrinal questions, and, generally speaking, the absence of any salient points to arrest the attention and provoke reference. In Clement of Rome there are some slight coincidences of language, perhaps not purely accidental (c. 38, κατὰ πάντα εὐχαριστεῖν αὐτῷ, comp. 1 Thessalonians 5:18; ibid. σωζέσθω ουν ἡμῖν ὅλον τὸ σῶμα ἐν X. I., comp. 1 Thessalonians 5:23). Ignatius in two passages (Polyc. 1, and Ephes. 10) seems to be reminded of Paul's expression ἀδιαλείπτως προσεύχεσθε (1 Thessalonians 5:17), but in both passages of Ignatius the word ἀδιαλείπτως , in which the similarity mainly consists, is absent in the Syriac, and is therefore probably spurious. The supposed references in Polycarp (ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:1 to 1 Thessalonians 5:17, and 1 Thessalonians 2:1-20) are also unsatisfactory. It is more important to observe that the epistle was included in the Old Latin and Syriac versions, that it is found in the canon of the Muratorian fragment, and that it was also contained in that of Marcion and of the Council of Laodicea in 364. With Irenseus commence direct citations (Adv. Haeres. 5, 6, I): "On account of this the apostle hath set forth the perfect spiritual man, saying in 1 Thessalonians, But the God of peace sanctify you wholly, and may your whole body, soul, and spirit be preserved blameless to the coining of our Lord Jesus. Christ'" (comp. 1 Thessalonians 5, 23). Clemens Alex. (Pcedag.,1, 88): "But this the blessed Paul hath most clearly signified, saying, When we might be burdensome as the apostles of Christ, we were gentle among you, as a nurse cherisheth her children" (comp. 1 Thessalonians 2, 7). Tertullian (De Resurrect. Carnis, c. 24): "What these times were, learn along with the Thessalonians; for we read, How ye were turned from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, Jesus, whom he hath raised from the dead'" (comp. 1 Thessalonians 1, 9, 10). This father quotes the epistle more than twenty times. To these citations we may add those by Caius (ap. Euseb. Hist. Eccles. 6:20), by Origen (Cont. Cels. lib. 3), and by others of the ecclesiastical writers (Lardner, 2, pl. locc.).

On the other hand, the internal evidence derived from the character of the epistle itself is so strong that it may fairly be called irresistible. It would be impossible to enter into the question of style here, but the reader may be referred to the Introduction of Jowett, who has handled this subject very fully and satisfactorily. An equally strong argument may be drawn also from the matter contained in the epistle. Two instances of this must suffice. In the first place, the fineness and delicacy of touch with which the apostle's relations towards his Thessalonian converts are drawn-his yearning to see them, his anxiety in the absence of Timothy, and his heart- felt rejoicing at the good news are quite beyond the reach of the clumsy forgeries of the early Church. In the second place, the writer uses language which, however it may be explained, is certainly colored by the anticipation of the speedy advent of the Lord language natural enough on the apostle's own lips, but quite inconceivable in a forgery written after his death; when time had disappointed these anticipations, and when the revival or mention of them would serve no purpose and might seem to discredit the apostle. Such a position would be an anachronism in a writer of the 2nd century.

The genuineness of this epistle was first questioned by Schrader (Apostel Paulus), who was followed by Baur (Paulus, p. 480). The latter writer has elaborated and systematized the attack. The arguments which he alleges in favor of his view are briefly controverted by Linemann, and more at length, and with great fairness, by Jowett. The following is a summary of Baur's arguments.

(a.) He attributes great weight to the general character of the epistle, the difference of style, and especially the absence of distinctive Pauline doctrines-a peculiarity which will be remarked upon and explained below (§ 3).

(b.) In the mention of the "wrath" overtaking the Jewish people (2, 16), Baur sees an allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem, and therefore a proof of the later date of the epistle. The real significance of these words will be considered below in discussing the Apocalyptic passage in the second epistle.

(c.) He urges the contradictions to the account in the Acts-a strange argument, surely, to be brought forward by Baur, who postdates and discredits the authority of that narrative. The real extent and bearing of these divergences will be considered below (§ 4),

(d.) He discovers references to the Acts, which show that the epistle was written later. It will be seen, however, that the coincidences are subtle and incidental, and the points of divergence and. prima-facie contradictions, which Baur himself allows, and indeed insists upon, are so numerous as to preclude the supposition of copying. Schleiermacher (Einleit. ins N.T. p. 150) rightly infers the independence of the epistle on these grounds.

(e.) He supposes passages in this epistle to have been borrowed from the acknowledged letters of Paul. The resemblances, however, which he points out are not greater than, or, indeed, so great as, those in other epistles, and bear no traces of imitation.

II. Date. This has been approximately determined in the following way: During the course of his second missionary journey, which began in the year 47, Paul founded the Church of Thessalonica. Leaving Thessalonica, he passed on to Beroea. From Beroea he went to Athens, and from Athens to Corinth (Acts 17:1; Acts 18:18). With this visit to Corinth, which extends over a period of two years or thereabouts, his second missionary journey closed, for from Corinth he returned to Jerusalem, paying only a brief visit to Ephesus on the way (Acts 18:20-21). There is some uncertainty about the movements of Paul's companions at this time (see below); but, whatever view we adopt on this point, it seems indisputable that, when this epistle was written, Silvanus and Timothy were in the apostle's company (1 Thessalonians 1:1; comp. 2 Thessalonians 2:1)-a circumstance which confines the date to the second missionary journey, for, though Timothy was with him on several occasions afterwards, the name of Silvanus appears for the last time in connection with Paul during this visit to Corinth (Acts 18:5; 2 Corinthians 1:19). The epistle, then, must have been written in the interval between Paul's leaving Thessalonica and the close of his residence at Corinth, i.e. within the years 48-51. The following considerations, however, narrow the limits of the possible date still more closely.

(1.) When Paul wrote, he had already visited, and probably left, Athens (1 Thessalonians 3:1).

(2.) Having made two unsuccessful attempts to revisit Thessalonica, he had dispatched Timothy to obtain tidings of his converts there. Timothy had returned before the apostle wrote (1 Thessalonians 3:1 to 1 Thessalonians 2:6).

(3.) Paul speaks of the Thessalonians as "ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia," adding that "in every place their faith to God- ward was spread abroad" (1 Thessalonians 1:7-8)-language prompted, indeed, by the overflowing of a grateful heart, and therefore not to be rigorously pressed, but still implying some lapse of time at least.

(4.) There are several traces of a growth and progress in the condition and circumstances of the Thessalonian Church. Perhaps the mention of "rulers" in the Church (1 Thessalonians 5:12) ought not to be adduced as proving this, since some organization would be necessary from the very beginning. But there is other evidence besides. Questions had arisen relating to the state of those who had fallen asleep in Christ, so that one or more of the Thessalonian converts must have died in the interval (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). The storm of persecution which the apostle had discerned gathering on the horizon had already burst upon the Christians of Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:4; 1 Thessalonians 3:7). Irregularities had crept in and sullied the infant purity of the Church (1 Thessalonians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:14). The lapse of a few months, however, would account for these changes, and a much longer time cannot well be allowed. For

(5) the letter was evidently written by Paul immediately on the return of Timothy, in the fullness of his gratitude for the joyful tidings (1 Thessalonians 3:6). Moreover

(6), the second epistle also was written before he left Corinth, and there must have been a sufficient interval between the two to allow of the growth of fresh difficulties, and of such communication between the apostle and his converts as the case supposes. We shall not be far wrong, therefore, in placing the writing of this epistle early in Paul's residence at Corinth, a few months after he had founded the Church at Thessalonica, i.e. during the year 49.

The statement in the subscription appearing in several MSS. and versions that it was written "from Athens" is a superficial inference from 1 Thessalonians 3:1, to which no weight should be attached, as is clear from the epistle itself.

(1.) In 1 Thessalonians 1:7-8 Paul says that the Thessalonians had become "ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia for from you [says he] sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad." Now, for such an extensive diffusion of the fame of the Thessalonian Christians and of the Gospel by them, a much longer period of time must have elapsed than is allowed by the supposition that Paul; wrote this epistle while at Athens; and, besides, his reference particularly to Achaia seems prompted by the circumstance of his being, at the time he wrote, in Achaia, of which Corinth was the chief city.

(2.) His language in 1 Thessalonians 3:1-2 favors the opinion that it was not from Athens, but after he had left Athens, that he wrote this epistle; it is hardly the turn which one living at Athens at the time would have given his words.

(3.) Is it likely that during the short time Paul was in Athens before writing this epistle (supposing him to have written it there) he should have "over and again" purposed to revisit the Thessalonians, but have been hindered? And yet such purposes he had entertained before writing this epistle, as we learn from 1 Thessalonians 2:18; and this greatly favors the later date.

(4.) Before Paul wrote this epistle, Timothy had come to him from Thessalonica with good tidings concerning the faith and. charity of the Christians there (1 Thessalonians 3:6). But had Timothy followed Paul to Athens from Beroea, what tidings could he have brought the apostle from Thessalonica except such hearsay reports as would inform the apostle of nothing he did not already know? From these considerations it follows that this epistle was not written from Athens. It must, however, have been written very soon after his arrival at Corinth; for at the time of his writing Timothy had just arrived from Thessalonica (ἄρτι ἐλθόντος Τιμοθέου , 1 Thessalonians 3:6), and Paul had not been long in Corinth before Timothy and Silas joined him there (Acts 17:1-5). Michaelis contends for a later date; but his arguments are destitute of weight. Before Paul could learn that the fame of the Thessalonian Church had spread through Achaia and far beyond, it was not necessary, as Michaelis supposes, that he should have made several extensive journeys from Corinth; for as that city, from its mercantile importance, was the resort of persons from all parts of the commercial world, the apostle had abundant means of gathering this information even during a brief residence there. As little is it necessary to resort to the supposition that when Paul says that over and again Satan had hindered him from fulfilling his intention of visiting Thessalonica he must refer to shipwrecks or some such misfortunes (as Michaelis suggests); for Satan has many ways of hindering men from such purposes besides accidents in traveling. The views of critics Who have assigned to this epistle a later date than the second nissionary journey are stated and refuted in the Introduction of Koch (p. 23, etc.) and of Linemann (§ 3).

III. Relation to Other Epistles. The epistles to the Thessalonians then (for the second followed the first after no long interval) are the earliest of Paul's writings-perhaps the earliest written records of Christianity. They belong to that period which Paul elsewhere styles "the beginning of the Gospel" (Philippians 4:15). They present the disciples in the first flush of love and devotion, yearning for the day of deliverance, and straining their eyes to catch the first glimpse of their Lord descending amidst the clouds of heaven, till in their feverish anxiety they forget the sober business of life absorbed in this one engrossing thought. It will be, remembered that a period of about five years intervenes before the second group of epistles- those to the Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans were written, and about twice that period to the date of the epistles of the Roman captivity. It is interesting, therefore, to compare the Thessalonian epistles with the later letters and to note the points of difference. These differences are mainly fourfold.

1. In the general style of these earlier letters there is greater simplicity and less exuberance of language. The brevity of the opening salutation is an instance of this. "Paul to the Church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, grace and peace to you?" (1 Thessalonians 1:1; comp, 2 Thessalonians 1:1). The closing benediction is correspondingly brief: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you" (1 Thessalonians 5:28; comp. 2 Thessalonians 3:18). And throughout the epistles there is much more evenness of style; words are not accumulated in the same way, the syntax is less involved, parentheses are not so frequent, the turns of thought and feeling are less sudden and abrupt, and, altogether, there is less intensity and variety than we find in Paul's later epistles.

2. The antagonism to Paul is not the same. The direction of the attack has changed in the interval between the writing of these epistles and those of the next group. Here the opposition comes from Jews. The admission of the Gentiles to the hopes and privileges of Messiah's kingdom on any condition is repulsive to them. They "forbade the apostle to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved" (1 Thessalonians 2:16). A period of five years changes the aspect of the controversy. The opponents of Paul are now no longer Jews so much as Judaizing Christians (Ewald, Jahrb. 3, 249; Sendschr. p. 14). The question of the admission of the Gentiles has been solved by time, for they have "taken the kingdom of heaven by storm." But the antagonism to the apostle of the Gentiles having been driven from its first position, entrenched itself behind a second barrier. It was now urged that though the Gentiles may be admitted to the Church of Christ, the only door of admission is the Mosaic covenant-rite of circumcision. The language of Paul speaking of the Jewish Christians in this epistle shows that the opposition to his teaching had not at this time assumed this second phase. He does not yet regard them as the disturbers of the peace of the Church, the false teachers who, by imposing a bondage of ceremonial observances, frustrate the free grace of God. He can still point to them as examples to his converts at Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2, 14). The change, indeed, was imminent; the signs of the gathering storm had already appeared (Galatians 2:11), but hitherto they were faint and indistinct, and had scarcely darkened the horizon of the Gentile churches.

3. It will be no surprise that the doctrinal teaching of the apostle does not bear quite the same aspect in these as in the later epistles. Many of the distinctive doctrines of Christianity, which are inseparably connected with Paul's name, though implicitly contained in the teaching of these earlier letters-as indeed they follow directly from the true conception of the person of Christ-were yet not evolved and distinctly enunciated till the needs of the Church drew them out into prominence at a later date. It has often been observed, for instance, that there is in the epistles to the Thessalonians no mention of the characteristic contrast of "faith and works;" that the word "justification" does not once occur; that the idea of dying with Christ and living with Christ, so frequent in Paul's later writings, is absent in these. It was, in fact, the opposition of Judaizing Christians insisting on a strict ritualism, which led the apostle, somewhat later, to dwell at greater length on the true doctrine of a saving faith and the true conception of a godly life; but the time had not yet come.

4. This difference appears especially in the eschatology of the apostle. In the epistles to the Thessalonians, as has been truly observed, the Gospel preached is that of the coming of Christ, rather than of the cross of Christ. There are many reasons why the subject of the second advent should occupy a larger space in the earliest stage of the apostolical teaching than afterwards. It was closely bound up with the fundamental fact of the Gospel, the resurrection of Christ, and thus it formed a natural starting- point of Christian doctrine. It afforded the true satisfaction to those Messianic hopes which had drawn the Jewish converts to the fold of Christ. It was the best consolation and support of the infant Church under persecution, which must have been most keenly felt in the first abandonment of worldly pleasures and interests. More especially, as telling of a righteous Judge who would not overlook iniquity, it was essential to that call to repentance which must everywhere precede the direct and positive teaching of the Gospel. "Now he commandeth all men everywhere to repent, for he hath appointed a day in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom he hath ordained, whereof he hath given assurance unto all men in that he raised him from the dead" (Acts 17:30-31).

There is no just ground, however, for the supposition that the apostle entertained precipitate expectations as to the Lord's second coming. His language is suited to every age of the Church. Where an event is certain of accomplishment, but uncertain as regards the precise time, it may be said to be always "at hand" to devout expectation; and this is the aspect which the topic in question, after all that has been written on the subject, wears in Paul's writings taken as a whole., The task of proving that he was mistaken, and therefore that the gift of inspiration was only partial, is as arduous as one would suppose it must be ungrateful.

IV. Relation to the Associated History. A comparison of the narrative in the Acts with the allusions in this and the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians is equally instructive with the foregoing comparison. With some striking coincidences, there is just that degree of divergence which might be expected between a writer who had borne the principal part in the scenes referred to and a narrator who derives his information from others, between the casual half-expressed allusions of a familiar letter and the direct account of the professed historian.

1. Passing over patent coincidences, we may single out one of a more subtle and delicate kind. It arises out of the form which the accusation brought against Paul and his companions at Thessalonica takes in the Acts: "All these do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus" (Acts 17:7). The allusions in the epistles to the Thessalonians enable us to understand the ground of this accusation. It appears that the kingdom of Christ had entered largely into his oral teaching in this city, as it does into that of the epistles themselves. He had charged his new converts to await the coming of the Son of God from heaven as their deliverer (1 Thessalonians 1:10). He had dwelt long and earnestly (προείπαμεν καὶ διεμαρτυράμεθα ) on the terrors of the judgment, which would overtake the wicked (1 Thessalonians 4:6). He had even explained at length the signs, which would usher in the last day (2 Thessalonians 2:5). Either from malice or in ignorance such language had been misrepresented, and he was accused of setting up a rival sovereign to the Roman emperor.

2. On the other hand, the language of these epistles diverges from the narrative of Luke on two or three points in such a way as to establish the independence of the two accounts, and even to require some explanation.

(1.) The first of these relates to the composition of the Church of Thessalonica. In the first epistle Paul addresses his readers distinctly as Gentiles, who had been converted from idolatry to the Gospel (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). In the Acts we are told that "some (of the Jews) believed and of the devout Greeks (i.e. proselytes) a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few" (Acts 17:4). If for σεβομένων ῾Ελλήνων we read σεβομένων καὶ ῾Ελλήνων, "proselytes and Greeks," the difficulty vanishes; but though internal probabilities are somewhat in favor of this reading, the array of direct evidence (now reinforced by the Codex Sinaiticus) is against it. But even if we retain the common reading, the account of Luke does not exclude a number of believers converted directly from heathendom; indeed, if we may argue from the parallel case at Beroea (Acts 17:12), the "women" were chiefly of this class; and if any divergence remains, it is not greater than might be expected in two independent writers, one of whom, not being an eye-witness, possessed only a partial and indirect knowledge. Both accounts alike convey the impression that the Gospel made but little progress with the Jews themselves.

(2.) In the epistle the persecutors of the Thessalonian Christians are represented as their fellow-countrymen, i.e. as heathens (ὑπὸ τῶν ἰδίων συμφυλετῶν, 1 Thessalonians 2:14), whereas in the Acts the Jews are regarded as the bitterest opponents of. the faith (Acts 17:5). This is fairly met by Paley (Horae Paul. 9:No. 5), who points out that the Jews were the instigators of the persecution, which, however, they were powerless of themselves to carry out without aid from the heathen, as may be gathered even from the narrative of Luke. We may add, also, that the expression ἴδιοι συμφυλέται Trat need not be restricted to the heathen population, but might include many Hellenist Jews who must have been citizens of the free town of Thessalonica.

(3.) The narrative of Luke appears to state that Paul remained only three weeks at Thessalonica (Acts 17:2); whereas in the epistle, though there is no direct mention of the length of his residence among them, the whole language (1 Thessalonians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 2:4-11) points to a much longer period. The latter part of the assertion seems quite correct, the former needs to be modified. In the Acts it is stated simply that for three Sabbath days (three weeks) Paul taught in the synagogue. The silence of the writer does not exclude subsequent labor among the Gentile population; and, indeed, as much seems to be implied in the success of his preaching, which exasperated the Jews against him.

(4.) The notices of the movements of Silas and Timothy in the two documents do not accord at first sight. In the Acts Paul is conveyed away secretly from Beroea to escape the Jews. Arrived at Athens, he sends to Silas and Timothy, whom he had left behind at Beroea, urging them to join him as soon as possible (Acts 17:14-16). It is evident from the language of Luke that the apostle expects them to join him at Athens; yet we hear nothing more of them for some time, when at length, after Paul had passed on to Corinth, and several incidents had occurred since his arrival there, we are told that Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia (Acts 18:5). From the first epistle, on the other hand, we gather the following facts: Paul there tells us that they (ριεσιλχ , i.e. himself, and probably Silas), no longer able to endure the suspense, "consented to be left alone at Athens, and sent Timotheus their brother" to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:1-2). Timothy returned with good news (1 Thessalonians 3:6) (whether to Athens or Corinth does not appear), and when the two epistles to the Thessalonians were written, both Timothy and Silas were with Paul (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; comp. 2 Corinthians 1:19). Now, though we may not be prepared, with Paley, to construct an undesigned coincidence out of these materials, yet, on the other hand, there is no insoluble difficulty; for the events may be arranged in two different ways, either of which will bring the narrative of the Acts into accordance with the allusions of the epistle.

(a.) Timothy was dispatched to Thessalonica, not from Athens, but from Beroea, a supposition quite consistent with the apostle's expression of "consenting to be left alone at Athens." In this case Timothy would take up Silas somewhere in Macedonia on his return, and the two would join Paul in company; not, however, at Athens, where he was expecting them, but later on at Corinth, some delay having arisen. This explanation, however, supposes that the plurals "we consented, we sent" (εὐδοκήσαμεν, ἐπέμψαμεν ), can refer to Paul alone.

(b.) The alternative mode of reconciling the accounts is as follows: Timothy and Silas did join the apostle at Athens, where we learn from the Acts that he was expecting them. From Athens he dispatched Timothy to Thessalonica, so that he and Silas (ἡμεῖς ) had to forego the services of their fellow-laborer for a time. This mission is mentioned in the epistle, but not in the Acts. Subsequently he sends Silas on some other mission, not recorded either in the history or the epistle; probably to another Macedonian Church-Philippi, for instance, from which he is known to have received contributions about this time, and with which, therefore, he was in communication (2 Corinthians 11:9; comp. Philippians 4:14-16; see Koch, p. 15). Silas and Timothy returned together from Macedonia and joined the apostle at. Corinth. This latter solution, if it assumes more than the former, has the advantage that it preserves the proper sense of the plural "we consented, we sent," for it is at least doubtful whether Paul ever uses the plural of himself alone. The silence of Luke may in this case be explained either by his possessing only a partial knowledge of the circumstances, or by his passing over incidents of which he was aware as unimportant.

Whether the expected meeting ever took place at Athens is therefore a matter involved in much uncertainty. Michaelis, Eichhorn, De Wette, Koppe. Pelt, and others are of opinion that, at least as respects Timothy, it did take place; and they infer that Paul again remanded him to Thessalonica, and that he made a second journey along with Silas to join the apostle at Corinth. Hug, on the other hand, supposes only one journey, viz. from Thessalonica to Corinth; and understands the apostle, in 1 Thessalonians 3:1-2, as intimating, not that he had sent Timothy from Athens to Thessalonica, but that he had prevented his coming to Athens by sending him from Beroea to Thessalonica. Between these two opinions there is nothing to enable us to judge with certainty, unless we attach weight to the expression of Luke, that Paul had desired the presence of Timothy and Silas in Athens ὡς τάχιστα , "as speedily as possible." His desiring them to follow him thus, without loss of time, favors the: conclusion that they did rejoin him in Athens, and were thence sent to Thessalonica. (See SILAS); (See TIMOTHY).

V. Occasion of the Epistle. We are now prepared to consider the circumstances of the Church at Thessalonica which drew forth this letter. These were as follows: Paul had twice attempted to revisit Thessalonica, and both times had been disappointed. Thus prevented from seeing them in person, he had sent Timothy to inquire and report to him as to their condition (1 Thessalonians 3:1-5). Timothy returned with most favorable tidings, reporting not only their progress in Christian faith and practice, but also their strong attachment to their old teacher (1 Thessalonians 3:6-10). The First Epistle to the Thessalonians is the outpouring of the apostle's gratitude on receiving this welcome news.

At the same time, the report of Timothy was not unmixed with alloy. There were certain features in the condition of the Thessalonian Church which called for Paul's interference, and to which he addresses himself in his letter.

(1.) The very intensity of their Christian faith, dwelling too exclusively on the day of the Lord's. coming, had been attended with evil consequences. On the one hand, a practical inconvenience had arisen. In their feverish expectation of this great crisis, some had been led to neglect their ordinary business, as if the daily concerns of life were. of no account in the immediate presence of so vast a change (1 Thessalonians 4:11; comp. 2 Thessalonians 2:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12). On the other hand, a theoretical difficulty had been felt. Certain members of the Church had died, and there was great anxiety lest they should be excluded from any share in the glories of the Lord's advent (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Paul rebukes the irregularities of the former, and dissipates the fears of the latter.

(2.) The flame of persecution had broken out, and the Thessalonians needed consolation and encouragement under their sore trial (1 Thessalonians 2:14; 1 Thessalonians 3:2-4).

(3.) An unhealthy state of feeling with regard to spiritual gifts was manifesting itself. Like the Corinthians at a later day, they needed to be reminded of the superior value of "prophesying," compared with other gifts of the Spirit, which they exalted at its expense (1 Thessalonians 5:19-20).

(4.) There was the danger, which they shared in common with most Gentile churches, of relapsing into their old heathen profligacy. Against this the apostle offers a word in season (1 Thessalonians 4:4-8). We need not suppose, however, that Thessalonica was worse in this respect than other Greek cities. (See THESSALONICA).

Yet, notwithstanding all these drawbacks, the condition of the Thessalonian Church was highly satisfactory, and the most cordial relations existed between Paul and his converts there. This honorable distinction it shares with the other great Church of Macedonia, that of Philippi. At all times, and amid every change of circumstance, it is to his Macedonian churches that the apostle turns for sympathy and support. A period of nearly ten years is interposed between the First Epistle to the Thessalonians and the Epistle to the Philippians, and yet no two of his letters more closely resemble each other in this respect. In both he drop's his official title of apostle in the opening salutation, thus appealing rather to their affection than to his own authority; in both he commences the body of his letter with hearty and unqualified commendation of his converts; and in both the game spirit of confidence and warm affection breathes throughout.

VI. Contents. The design of this epistle thus being to comfort the- Thessalonians under trial, and to encourage them to the patient and consistent profession of Christianity, the letter itself is rather practical than doctrinal. It was suggested more by personal feeling than by any urgent need, which might have formed a center of thought, and impressed a distinct character on the whole. Under these circumstances, we need not expect to trace unity of purpose, or a continuous argument, and any analysis must be more or less artificial. The body of the epistle, however, may conveniently be divided into two parts, the former of which, extending over the first three chapters, is chiefly taken up with a retrospect of the apostle's relation to his Thessalonian converts, and an explanation of his present circumstances and feelings; while the latter, comprising the 4th and 5th chapters, contains some seasonable exhortations. At the close of each of these divisions is a prayer commencing with the same words, "May God himself," etc., and expressed in somewhat similar language. The epistle may therefore be tabulated as follows: Salutation (1 Thessalonians 1:1).

I. Narrative portion (1 Thessalonians 1:2 to 1 Thessalonians 3:13).

1. The apostle gratefully records their conversion to the Gospel and their progress in the faith (1 Thessalonians 1:2-10).

2. He reminds them how pure and blameless his life and ministry among them had been (1 Thessalonians 2:1-12).

3. He repeats his thanksgiving for their conversion, dwelling especially on the persecutions which they had endured (1 Thessalonians 2:13-16).

4. He describes his own suspense and anxiety, the consequent mission of Timothy to Thessalonica, and the encouraging report which he brought back (1 Thessalonians 2:17 to 1 Thessalonians 3:10).

5. The apostle's prayer for the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13).

II. Hortatory portion (1 Thessalonians 4:1 to 1 Thessalonians 5:24).

1. Warning against impurity (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8).

2. Exhortation to brotherly love and sobriety of conduct (1 Thessalonians 4:9-12).

3. Touching the advent of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:13 to 1 Thessalonians 5:11).

a. The dead shall have their place in the resurrection (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

b. The time, however, is uncertain (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3).

c. Therefore all must be watchful (1 Thessalonians 5:4-11).

4. Exhortation to orderly living and the due performance of social duties (1 Thessalonians 5:12-15).

5. Injunctions relating to prayer and spiritual matters generally (1 Thessalonians 5:16-22).

6. The apostle's prayer for the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

The epistle closes with personal injunctions and a benediction (1 Thessalonians 5:25-28).

VII. Commentaries. The following are the special exegetical helps on both the epistles to the Thessalonians exclusively; to the most important of them we prefix an asterisk: Willich, Commentarius (Argent. 1545; Basil. 1546, 8vo); Weller, Commentarius [includ. Philippians] (Norib. 1561, 8vo); Major, Enarratio (Vitemb. 1563, 8vo-); Musculus, Commentarius [includ. other ep.] (Basil. 1564, 1578, 1595, fol.); Aretius, Commentarius [includ. Philippians and Colossians] (Morg. 1580, 8vo); *Jewell, Exposition (Lond. 1583, 12mo; 1811, 8vo; also in Latin, and in Works); Zanchius, Comnmentarius [includ. Philippians and Colossians] (Neost. 1595, fol.; also in Opp.); *Rollock, Commentarius (Edinb. 1598; Herb. 1601, 8vo); also Lectures (Edinb. 1606, 4to); Hunnius, Expositio (Francof. 1603, 8vo); Steuart [Romans Cath.], Commentarius (Ingolst. 1609, 4to); Crell [Socin.], Commentarius [from Peter Mocov's notes] (Racov. 1636, 8vo; also in Opp.); Ferguson, Exposition (Lond. 1674, 8vo); Schmid, Paraphrasis [includ. other ep.] (Hamb. 1691,1696,1704,4to); Landresen,: Erklarung (Frankf. 1707, 4t.); Streso, Meditatien (Amst. 1710, 8vo); Turretin, Commentarius (Basil. 1739, 8vo; also in Opp.); Chandler, Notes [includ. Galatians] (Lond. 1777, 4to); Krause, Erklurung [includ. Philippians] (Frankf. 1790); Schleiermacher, Notae (Berol. 1823,8vo); *Pelt, Commentarius (Gryph. 1830, 8vo); Schott, Commentarius (Lips. 1834, 8vo); Tafel, Historia Thessalonicensium (Tub. 1835, 8vo); Sumner, Lectures (Lond. 1850, 2 vols. 12mo); Lillie, Version (N. Y. 1856, 4to); also Lectures (ibid. 1870, 8vo); *Ellicott, Commentary (Lond. 1858, 1862, 1866, 8vo); Edmunds, Commentary (ibid. 1858,-8vo); Headland, Notes (ibid. 1866, 8vo); *Eadie, Commentary (ibid. 1877, 8vo). (See EPISTLE).

On the first epistle alone there are the following: Sclater, Exposition (Lond. 1629, 4to); Martin, Analysis (Greening. 1669, 12mo); Van Alphen, Verklaering (Utrecht, 1741, 4to); Phillips, Explanation (Lond. 1751, 4to); Burgerhoudt, De Argumento, etc. (L. B. 1825, Svo); Koch, Commentar (Berl. 1848,1855, 8vo); Paterson, Commentary [includ. James and 1 John] (Edinb. 1857, 8vo). (See COMMENTARY).


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Thessalonians, First Epistle to the,'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/t/thessalonians-first-epistle-to-the.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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