I’m starting a quick series looking at 1 & 2 Thessalonians over the next few weeks. I have an intro for y’all this week, then a few weeks of commentary, followed by a review of the commentaries (see links below). Hope you enjoy and/or find it helpful.
The books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians were written to the Christians of the Macedonian city of of what is today Thessaloniki. Formerly known as Thessalonica, the city was named after Alexander the Great’s half-sister and served as the capital of Macedonia. Often when we read books of the Bible, the places are too old and far away for us to make a connection, but they city is only still around today but is actually the second largest city in Greece and an important center of the region.
The church was established as part of Paul’s missionary journey as described in Acts 16-18 and the letters were likely written sometime in the early 50’s AD. There is no series denial of attribution to Paul for Second Thess, though there are a few who question First. There are early attestments from church fathers and each have been considered cannon until the 19th Century and rise of German Higher Criticism. Certainly, no Evangelical or academic Christian scholar doubt either today.
One interesting thing I came across while studying these letters is the arguments of which letter came first. It is important to remember that even though they are referred to as ‘first’ and ‘second’, when the Bible was put together, the Epistles were not ordered chronologically; they are ordered by length. Wannamaker (NIGNT) argues that ‘second’ was actually written first based on the reference in ‘first’ to a previous letter. In his theory, ‘second’ is written while Paul is in Athens and Timothy delivers it, which is the reference to his visit in ‘first’. Much of the rest of his reasoning boils down to the lack of evidence to consider ‘first’ to be written first. Wannamaker is not the first to make this argument, and spends time with those who argue against it, but appears to be in the minority of modern scholarship. Of the commentaries listed below, only Green (Pillar) interacts at any length.
While neither the Gospel message nor the pastoral instruction and advice are lessened or lost by the order of the letters, certain interpretations could change or be influenced depending on whether you find a particular point ot be a follow up. Wannamaker certainly appeals to ‘first’ to be written second as a reason for his side on some of the trickery passages to interpret; likewise Green refutes some interpretations. As for me, I find the arguments for ‘second’ be the original letter more convincing, and particularly think that comes out in the references to the second coming in each letter. The fact that ‘first’ is longer, but hits the same topics, just with more detail, appears to me to show a clarification that can logically only come later.
The letters both cover similar topics and are both relatively short. ‘First’ is only five chapters while ‘second’ clocks in with three. Major themes in each include the second coming, work/idleness, and suffering/perseverance. Of course each open with long greetings and ends with encouragement/blessing/benediction. ‘First’ also includes notes on Timothy report from his visit (possibly when he delivered ‘second’), Paul’s longing to see them again, and a few other instructions.
The Letters to the Thessalonians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC))
1 and 2 Thessalonians (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (IVP Numbered))
The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Bible Speaks Today)
Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians (The New International Greek Testament Commentary)
1-2 Thessalonians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
1-2 Thessalonians (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series)
The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament)