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1 Thessalonians
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1 Thessalonians is a book of the New Testament, and the first of two letters that Paul wrote to the church of Thessalonica.


External EvidenceEdit

The strongest external evidence in favour of the authenticity of I Thessalonians is II Thessalonians which, whatsoever be its date of composition, is the very earliest document that clearly presupposes I Thessalonians to have been written by Paul.

The evidence of manuscripts alone is such as to set the authenticity of this letter beyond all doubt; it is in the Greek text of the Codex Sinaiticus (fourth century), Cod. Vaticanus (fourth century), and Cod. Alexandrinus (fifth century); it is in the Old Latin and Syriac Versions, which trace its authenticity down to the middle of the second century.

The Apostolic Fathers give evidence of very early use of the Epistle as Sacred Scripture. St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. A.D. 110-17, according to the chronology of Harnack which we shall follow in this article), in "Eph.", X, i, probably uses the adialeiptos proseuchesthai, "pray without ceasing", of I Thess., v, 17; and undoubtedly had in mind I Thess., ii, 4, when writing to the Romans (II, i) the distinctly Pauline thought of ou thelo hymas anthropareskein alla theo, "I will that ye please not man but God". Because St. Ignatius, as the other Apostolic Fathers, cites from memory, without the exactness of later Fathers and without ever mentioning the name of the sacred writer quoted, Dr. Inge, the Lady Margaret professor of divinity in the University of Cambridge, says: "The evidence that Ignatius knew I Thessalonians is almost nil" (cf. "The New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers", Oxford, 1905, p. 74). Against such scepticism, the clear use of St. Paul by the Apostolic Fathers is of no avail. Harnack, who cannot be accused of overmuch credulity, thinks that St. Ignatius of Antioch possessed a collection of the Pauline Epistles; and that by the year 117, St. Polycarp of Smyrna had a complete collection (eine ganze Sammlung) thereof before him and veritably lived therein (cf. Chronologie der altchristlichen Litteratur, I, 249, note 2). In the "Pastor" of Hermas (A.D. 140), we find the phrase of I Thess., v, 13, "Be at peace among yourselves" (eireneuete en heautois) several times, used almost as it occurs in the Alexandrian and Vatican Codices (cf. Hermas, "Simil.", VIII, vii, 2; "Vis.", III, vi, 3; III, ix, 2, 10; III, xii, 3).

The Apologetic Fathers are clear and to the point. St Irenæus (A.D. 181-9) cites I Thess., v, 23, expressly attributing the words to the Apostle's First Epistle to the Thessalonians ("Contra hæreses", V, vi, 1 in P. G., VIII, 1138), and I Thess., v, 3, as the saying of the Apostle (ibid., V, xxx, 2 in P. G., VII, 1205). Tertullian quotes at length passages from each of the five chapters of I Thess. to prove his thesis of the resurrection of the body ("Liber de resurrectione carnis", xxiv, in P. L., II, 874) and uses the Epistle against Marcion ("Adv. Marcionem", V, xv in P. L., II, 541). St Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 190-210) very often cites this brief letter -- cf. "Pædagogus", I, v, 19 (Stählin's ed., I, 101) and "Stromata", I, i, 6 (Stählin's ed., II, 5) for I Thess., ii, 5-7; "Stromata", II, xi, 4, IV, xii (Stählin's ed., II, 138 and 286), for an allusion to I Thess., iv, 3, and an accurate citation of six verses (3-8) of the same chapter; "Pædagogus", II, ix, III, xii, IV, xxii (Stählin's ed., I, 206 and 288, and P. G., VIII, 1352) for the appeal to almost every verse of I Thess., v, i. e. verses 5, 8, 13, 15, 19, 22; "Stromata", I, xi (Stählin's ed., II, 34) for a quotation from the same chapter. So strong is the external evidence in favour of the authenticity of I Thess. as to convince all scholars save only those who, on account of internal evidence, deny to Paul the authenticity of all his Epistles.

Internal EvidenceEdit

In I Thessalonians all the main Pauline doctrines are taught -- the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (i, 10; iv, 14; v, 10); His Divinity and Sonship of the living God (i, 9, 10); the resurrection of our bodies (iv, 15-18), the mediatorship of Christ (v, 10); the call of the nations to the Kingdom of Christ, which is the Church (ii, 12), sanctification by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (iv, 8). The plain and direct style, the writer's affectionate concern for his spiritual children, his impatience of Judaizers, the preponderance of personal over doctrinal statements, the frank and honest self-revelation of the writer -- all these distinctly Pauline characteristics argue strongly for the authenticity of this letter.

Baur, the prime mover of neo-Tübingen ideas, was the first to wave aside recklessly all external evidence and seriously to attack the authenticity of I Thess. from internal evidence (cf. "Der Apostel Paulus", ed. 2, II, 94). He was followed by Nowack, "Der Ursprung des Christentums" (Leipzig, 1857), II, 313; Volkmar, "Mose, Prophezie und Himmelfahrt" (Leipzig, 1867), 114; and Van der Vries, "De beiden brieven aan de Thessalonicensen" (Leyden, 1865). The reasons which impel Baur and his followers are trivial.

  • The lack of doctrine makes the letter unworthy of Paul. We have noted that the main heads of Paul's teaching are included in this short letter. Moreover, the letter is a most touching revelation of the great heart of St. Paul and as such alone is befitting the outspoken Apostle.
  • The Epistle is a clumsy forgery. The author has worked up his story from Acts. Paul could not have written ii, 14-16. It is far-fetched to compare the woes inflicted by the Jews upon the Church of Thessalonica with the ills they wrought upon the Church of Judea. It is un-Pauline to set Jewish Christians up as an example to Gentile converts (Baur, op. cit., 482). These purely subjective objections are worthless. The Apostle was too broadminded to be tied down to the narrow ideas of Baur. True, in his later letters -- to the Romans end Corinthians and Galatians, for instance -- we might not look for the juxtaposition of Jewish with Gentile Christians; but the Judaizers were not so troublesome to Paul when he wrote to the Thessalonians as when he wrote to the Romans.
  • The expression ephthase de ep autous he orge eis telos, "the wrath hath come upon them unto the end" (ii, 16), naturally refers to the destruction of Jerusalem (A.D. 70) as an accomplished punishment of the Jews for killing the Lord Jesus. This is an unwarranted assumption. The phrase eis telos is indefinite; it has no definite article nor any defining qualificative; it modifies ephthase and refers to no definite end either accomplished or to be accomplished. St. Paul indefinitely but surely sees the oncoming end, reads the easily legible writing on the wall, and interprets that writing: "The wrath [of God] hath come upon them even unto making an end of them". (iv) Baur (op. cit., 485) finds the eschatology of the Epistle un-Pauline. In the Epistles to the Corinthians, Romans, and Galatians, for instance, there is no diving into the future, nothing said of the Parousia, or second coming of Jesus. But the reason is clear -- those to whom Paul wrote his great and later Epistles had not the eschatological difficulties of the Thessalonians to meet. He adapted his letters to the wants of those to whom he wrote. The very fact that the apprehension of an immediate Parousia us not mentioned in the later letters would have prevented a forger from palming off as Pauline such an unusual topic. Canonicity

The two Epistles to the Thessalonians are included among the canonical books accepted by the Councils of the Vatican, of Trent, and of Florence, and are among the homologoumena of all early lists of canonical New-Testament Scriptures; for instance, to mention only such early lists as accord with the received canon of Trent, these two Epistles are listed in the Muratorian Fragment (A.D. 195-205), in the canons of St. Athanasius of Alexandria (A.D. 373), of the Third Council of Carthage (A.D. 397), in which Saint Augustine took part, of St. Epiphanius (A.D. 403), of Innocent I (A.D. 405), and of Gelasius (A.D. 492). In fact there can be no reason whatsoever to doubt the canonicity of either letter.

Time and PlaceEdit

The textus receptus, at the end of the two Epistles, gives a subscription stating that they were written from Athens (egraphe apo Athenon); and this same subscription is contained in the great uncial codices A, B2, K2, L2 -- that is, Alexandrinus (fourth century), Vaticanus (fifth century corrector), Mosquensis, and Angelicus (both of the ninth century); it is likewise translated in important Latin, Syriac and Coptic manuscripts. None the less, there can be no doubt but that the letters were written during Paul's first stay in Corinth. Timothy had been sent to Thessalonica by Paul from Athens (I Thess., iii, 2). Hence some Fathers inferred that, on this mission, Timothy brought along I Thess. The inference is wrong. As Rendel Harris says in "The Expositor" (1898), 174, Paul may have sent another letter from Athens by Timothy to the Thessalonians. He cannot have sent I Thessalonians from there by him. Paul clearly states that Timothy had returned from Thessalonica before the writing of I Thessalonians. (cf. iii, 6). Whither did he return? I Thessalonians does not state. Acts, xviii, 5, supplies answer. When Timothy returned from Macedonia with Silas to Paul, the Apostle was at Corinth. The news brought him by Timothy was the occasion of I Thessalonians. Moreover, in the greeting with which each letter begins, the names of Paul, Silvanus (i.e. Silas), and Timothy are grouped together; and we know that the three were together at Corinth (Acts, xviii, 5) during Paul's first visit to that city (cf. also II Cor., i, 19). We have no proof that they were ever elsewhere together. I Thess., then, was written during the eighteen months Paul stayed. at Corinth, i.e. in the year 48 or 49, according to the chronology of Harnack, "Chronologie der altchristlichen Litteratur" (Leipzig, 1897), I, 717; in the year 53 or 54 according to the commonly received scheme of Pauline chronology. Both letters are generally considered to be the earliest extant writings of St. Paul. Some few now deem it proved that Paul wrote to the South Galatians even before he wrote to the Thessalonians, cf. Zahn, "Einleitung in das Neue Testament" Leipzig, 1897), I, 138.

D. Occasion

Having arrived at Athens, Paul at once set himself to convert the Jews, proselytes and Gentiles of that city. Among the latter he met with unusually small success. The Epicureans and Stoics for the most part rated him as a talkative lounger in the agora and either berated him with ridicule upon the Hill of Ares or waved him aside (Acts, xvii, 16-32). Meanwhile he trembled for the Church of Thessalonica. So long as he had been there, only the Jews strove to set his work at naught; now in his absence, the Gentiles joined the Jews (I Thess., ii, 14), and made a vigorous onslaught upon the faith of his children. Paul yearned mightily to see their face once more. In his intense affection and concern, he breaks away from his wonted first plural: "We willed to have come to you, even I, Paul, and that once and again; but Satan hindered us" (ii, 18). The hindrance wrought by Satan was probably a security against his return given by Jason and some friends (Acts, xvii, 9). Being unable to follow the yearnings of his heart, Paul sent Timothy to save the flock from the ravening wolves (I Thess., ii, 2). The Acts make no mention of this legation of Timothy from Athens to Thessalonica. Not long after, Paul left for Corinth (Acts, xviii, I). Thither Timothy, who returned from Thessalonica, brought back an eyewitness's testimony as to the conditions of the faithful of that city. Rendel Harris, in "The Expositor" (1898), 167, thinks that the Thessalonians sent Paul a letter by Timothy and, to make good his theory, appeals to I Thess., i, 2, 5; ii, 1, 5, 9-13; iii, 3-6. There may be some ground for such conjecture in "We also" (kai hemeis) of I, ii, 13; "Also I" (kago) of I, iii, 5, and in "you have a good remembrance of us always" (echete mneian hemon agaphen) of I, iii, 6. Be this as it may, whether by letter or by word of mouth, Timothy fully informed Paul of the needs of the Christian community at Thessalonica; and these needs were the occasion of the first Epistle to that community.


No other letter of Paul to a Church is so free and easy and epistolary as is this letter; it defies strict doctrinal analysis, and is far more personal than doctrinal. Merely for the sake of some division, we may consider chapters i and iii as personal, chapters iv and v as doctrinal.

  • Personal part -- a missionary's free outpouring of a noble heart's yearnings. He is filled with joy at hearing how they stand fast by the faith which he preached to them (i, 2, 8); fondly talks about his labours and about his stay with them (I, 9-ii, 12); thanks God for the way they received from him the word of God (ii, 13 - 16); delicately hints at his apprehensions for them, by telling how at Athens he yearned to see them, how he sent Timothy in his stead, how relieved he now is as Timothy's message has brought him peace of mind (ii, 17-iii, 10). Then follows a brief and beautiful prayer which sums up the yearnings of the great soul of the Apostle (iii, 11-13).
  • Doctrinal part. With this prayer ends what is meant to be free and epistolary. Now follows as little phrase of transition -- "For the rest, therefore, brethren" -- and a thoroughly Pauline and direct exhortation upon how they "ought to walk and to please God" by purity (iv, 1-8), brotherly love (iv, 9-10), and peaceful toil (verse 11). The peace of everyday toil had been disturbed by a fanatical lethargy due to the suppo

PD-icon.svg.png This article incorporates text from the public domain Catholic Encyclopedia, available online.

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