Thessalonians First Epistle to the
Thessalo’nians, First Epistle to the, was written by the apostle Paul at Corinth, a few months after he had founded the church at Thessalonica, at the close of the year a.d. 52 or the beginning of 53. The Epistles to the Thessalonians, then (for the second followed the first after no long interval), are the earliest of St. Paul’s writings—perhaps the earliest written records of Christianity. It is interesting, therefore, to compare the Thessalonian epistles with the later letters, and to note the points of difference. These differences are mainly threefold.
1. In the general style of these earlier letters there is greater simplicity and less exuberance of language. 2. The antagonism to St. Paul is not the same. Here the opposition comes from Jews. A period of five years changes the aspect of the controversy. The opponents of St. Paul are then no longer Jews so much as Judaizing Christians. 3. Many of the distinctive doctrines of Christianity 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 St. Paul’s later writings, is absent in these. In the Epistles to the Thessalonians, the gospel preached is that of the coming of Christ, rather than of the cross of Christ. The occasion of this epistle was as follows: St. 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 Thess. 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 Thess. 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 St. 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 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. ch. 4:13–18. 2. The Thessalonians needed consolation and encouragement under persecution. ch. 2:14; 3:2–4. 3. An unhealthy state of feeling with regard to spiritual gifts was manifesting itself. ch. 5:19–20. 4. There was the danger of relapsing into their old heathen profligacy. ch. 4:4–8. Yet notwithstanding all these drawbacks, the condition of the Thessalonian church was highly satisfactory, and the most cordial relations existed between St. Paul and his converts there. This honorable distinction it shares with the other great church of Macedonia, that of Philippi. The epistle is rather practical than doctrinal. 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. Toward the close of the second century, from Irenæus downward, we find this epistle directly quoted and ascribed to Paul. The evidence derived from the character of the epistle itself is so strong that it may fairly be called irresistible.