1 and 2 Thessalonians

Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett

in The Bible: Authorized King James Version

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780192835253
Published online April 2009 |

Series: Oxford World's Classics

1 and 2 Thessalonians

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The letters to the Thessalonians are probably the earliest of Paul's letters—and therefore probably also the earliest books of the New Testament. According to Acts 17: 1 Paul and his followers left Thessalonica for Athens after a month, and went from there to Corinth. If he wrote this letter from Corinth, then he did so c.50–1 ce. In the first letter Paul reminds the Thessalonians ‘how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come’ (1: 9–10). The phrases echo through Christian discourse: ‘the living and true God’, ‘the wrath to come’. 1 Thessalonians is very much a letter focused on eschatological expectations (as 1: 10 indicates): ‘But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord' (4: 13–17). Many Christian fundamentalist eschatologies are variations on that theme of the dead and the living one day rising into the sky together to join the Lord there. ‘For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him’ (5: 9–10). The belief that ‘the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night’ (5: 2) is a commonplace in the New Testament (cf. Matt. 24: 43; Luke 12: 39; 2 Pet. 3: 10; Rev. 3: 3; 16: 15). 1 Thess. 2: 14–16 is one of Paul's strongest statements against the Jews and is in stark contrast to his views on Israel in Rom. 9–11: ‘For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.’118 While the last phrase is ambiguous, the sentiments of the piece are not. God's wrath has finally caught up with the Jews who have killed the prophets, killed Jesus, and persecuted Paul and his followers. (In fairness we should note that, contrary to popular belief (cf. Matt. 23: 29–37), few prophets were actually killed, and that it was not the Jews but the Romans who crucified Jesus—crucifixion was a peculiarly Roman form of capital punishment.) Whether Paul had recently experienced Jewish persecution cannot now be established, but this text was to bedevil Jewish–Christian relations for 2,000 years. The first letter ends with a flourish: ‘Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil’ (5: 16–22).

Chapter.  993 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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