1 Thessalonians


Richard, Earl J.   First and Second Thessalonians.   Part of the Sacra Pagina biblical commentary series edited by Daniel J. Harrington S.J..  (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 1995).



Paul probably wrote 1 Thessalonians, probably did NOT write 2 Thessalonians.

1 Thessalonians may be the earliest letter of Paul that we  have, therefore the earliest Christian writing that we have.

Thessaloniki (ica) is in northern Greece.  Was a capital of a Roman province and a thriving commercial center.

In Acts Luke says that Paul and Silas began their mission in Thessalonica by going to the Jewish synagogues there and preaching.  They were successful in reaching God-fearers (Gentiles who were attracted to Judaism but could not or would not convert) and to the Gentiles of the region.  Luke then says that within a few weeks  a Jewish riot broke out against Paul and Silas  and they had to flee. Richard p. 5 says that this is a Lukan version of the story (which serves Lukan themes and objectives) and is in direct conflict with Paul’s own writing.  Given the disconnect – go with Paul.

Richard p. 8: “We would therefore date the Thessalonian mission to the early 40s and the correspondence to the early and mid-40s from Athens and Corinth.

As with the letters to the Corinthians some scholars (including Richard) believe that the First Letter to the Thessalonians is actually composed of two smaller / shorter letters.  Hints include having two “thanksgiving” sections, two concluding paragraphs, and more.  Richard believes the material in our second section is in fact an earlier letter that has been stuck in the middle of a later letter.  Other scholars disagree.

The early (middle) section reflects a missionary who has left a community but is concerned about their ability to survive.  The later section reflects a later and longer period of absence in which it is stated that things are going well.

This week – let’s read as Richard proposes – the Greeting and then the middle section.  Then the Greeting and the other two sections.

CHAPTERS 1:1 – 2:12

Richard p. 54: “The statement about idols, for Paul and his audience, would have underscored the great difference which the Christian message made in the lives of its adherents, for they no longer belonged to mainstream religious and social institutions of their cities.”

They were chosen by God – not the other way around.  The gospel given to them in words (of Paul) but also through deeds done in the power of the Holy Spirit by the community itself.

The beginning of chapter 2 is intended by Paul to present the missionaries own conduct while with them as a model for them to follow in their own lives.

CHAPTERS 2:13 – 4:2

The second paragraph in this section was inserted into the text by someone other than Paul at some point.  Paul NEVER accused the Jews of killing Jesus.  Richard p. 18:

“… I conclude that 2:14-16 constitutes an interpolation, originally composed as a scribal, marginal comment and later admitted into the body of the composite letter.  The theology of these verses is un-Pauline in tone, content, and overall treatment of Israel and represents a later generation’s misreading of polemical NT texts, particularly from Matthew and Luke-Acts, in the context of a Hellenistic anti-Jewish perspective.  The difficulties of the early Church are laid at the feet of the dispersed nation of Israel.”

Paul sees his missionary work from a cosmic perspective – God permits and allows some things to happen, Satan does what he can do to interfere.   Too much of this and one blows everything up to huge proportions – but – too little of this and we fail to see how our work and lives fit into a larger Divine plan.  Something to think about !

Richard p. 146 speculates that Timothy, at this stage of things, is a junior member of Paul’s missionary team.  Paul and the others are busy in Athens and cannot go now back to Thessalonica to check up on them, but they can spare Timothy for awhile.

What is the source of “difficulties” there?  Not persecution by Jews and not the Jewish Christian opponents of other letters.  Most likely – economic tensions given the refusal to worship the local gods as required by the marketplace.

At the end of the section is a reference to “holiness”.  Richard (pp. 175 ff.) looks at the biblical uses of the word and concludes that Paul uses the word as others have – it is the holiness of God, not their own.  He stress then to remain faithful to the end in order that they might be in the holy presence of God at the end of time.

CHAPTER 4:3 – 5:28

First word is “this” and refers back to their conducting themselves in a worthy way (2:12).

Richard p. 191: passion in this context for Paul is not erotic passion but the drives within people that motivate them to do what they do.  (The translator in our text has added “lustful” or opted for a textual variant that Richard does not use.)

Richard p. 194: “Thus, the “holiness” to which Paul refers in verses 3 and 7 is to be characterized by lives in which personal, bodily activity and social interaction are judged as pure before God.”

Richard p. 200: “These verses set the boundaries between the converts and their former allegiances and beliefs; they have turned away from idols to serve God (1:9) in a new way, a way that will distinguish them further from their pagan neighbors.”

“in this matter” doesn’t belong in the translation in  the way that Richard reads it.  This is a very long and complicated sentence in Greek with 5 infinitive clauses.  Our translation tries to make sense of what is referring to what by connecting “taking advantage of a brother” to the sexual morality issue that comes before it, Richard sees this as a separate clause / new topic – being just in one’s transactions and “this matter” being translated more as “in your (business) activities”.

Richard p. 223: “Thus, Paul’s concluding (to this section)  motivational statements (v.12) focus on two important facets of loving activity.  On the one hand, the conduct of the community’s members could have a profound impact on the lives of outsiders.  Thus, Paul insists that this influence be positive or proper.  On the other hand, loving activity involves self-help, mutual dependence, and sharing among members so that all may have tier needs met, whether in physical or spiritual terms.”

A new problem becomes the focus – those who have died / the end times.  The issue is not whether or not the Thessalonians believe in the resurrection but the problem of those who have died – who will be better off?  Jewish tradition had held that those living at the end time would have some advantage (because they believed there would be an interim “happy kingdom” on earth for some time before the general resurrection).

The angel on the top of Mormon temples with a trumpet is based on the image in this part of the letter.

Richard p. 244: Paul used traditional apocalyptic  imagery and perhaps was aware of some early Christian tradition regarding the end times (the Son of Man coming on the clouds as it appears in the gospels is possible).

Richard p. 245: “It is with such traditions in mind that Paul tackles the issue of the living and the dead vis-à-vis the parousia.  Expressing himself in the mythic terms of his time, Paul accepts the fact that Jesus has been raised by God from the dead, was enthroned in glory at God’s right hand (Rom 8:34), and awaits a future time when he will come down from heaven to rescue and gather the elect at the sound of the trumpet.”

“in the air”?????    cloud imagery plus the idea of meeting halfway?

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