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First Epistle to the Thessalonians

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The First Epistle to the Thessalonians, also known as the First Letter to the Thessalonians, is a book from the New Testament of the Christian Bible.

The first letter to the Thessalonians was likely the first of Paul's letters, probably written by the end of A.D. 52[1], making it, so far as is now known, the oldest existant Christian document (almost all scholars hold that the gospels were written over a decade later). The majority of modern scholars believe Paul wrote this letter from Corinth, although information appended to this work in many early manuscripts (e.g. Codices Alexandrinus, Mosquensis, and Angelicus) state that Paul wrote it in Athens[2] after Timothy had returned from Macedonia, with news of the state of the church in Thessalonica (Acts 18:1-5; 1 Thes. 3:6). For the most part, the letter is personal in nature, with only the final two chapters spent addressing issues of doctrine, almost as an aside. Paul's main purpose in writing is to encourage and reassure the Christians there. Paul urges them to go on working quietly while waiting in hope for the return of Christ.



The letter is usually outlined as follows:

  1. Salutation and thanksgiving (1 Thes. 1:1-10)
  2. Past interactions with the church (1 Thes. 2:1-20)
  3. Regarding Timothy's visit (1 Thes. 3:1-13)
  4. Specific issues within the church (1 Thes. 4:1-5:25)
    1. Relationships among Christians (1 Thes. 4:1-12)
    2. Mourning those who have died (1 Thes. 4:13-18)
    3. Preparing for God's arrival (1 Thes. 5:1-11)
    4. How Christians should behave (1 Thes. 5:12-25)
  5. Closing salutation (1 Thes. 5:26-28)


Paul, as well as his associates Silas and Timothy, gives thanks for the news about their faith and love; he reminds them of the kind of life he had lived while he was with them. Paul stresses how honorably he conducted himself, reminding them that he had worked to earn his keep, taking great pains not to burden anyone. He did this, he says, even though he could have used his status as an apostle to impose upon them.

Paul goes on to answer some concerns which have arisen in the church. Notably, there was some confusion regarding the fate of those who die before the arrival of the new kingdom. Many seem to have believed that an afterlife would only be available to those who lived to see the kingdom. Paul explains that the dead will be resurrected, and dealt with prior to those still living, who will be taken up into the air (see rapture). Thus, he assures, there is no reason to mourn the death of fellow Christians, and to do so is to show a shameful lack of faith.

Unlike all subsequent Pauline epistles, 1 Thessalonians does not focus on justification by faith or questions of Jewish-gentile relations, themes that are covered in all other letters. Many scholars see this as an indication that this letter was written before the Epistle to the Galatians, where Paul formed and identified his positions on these matters.[1]

Historical context

Church members

The church is believed to have been composed almost exclusively of Gentiles. This would reflect the ethnic and religious makeup of Thessalonica, and is supported by Paul's brief remark in 1:9 that they "turned to God from idols," a remark that would have made little sense to make to a Jewish audience. However, the Book of Acts records that there were Jews converted during Paul's initial preaching in Thessalonica[3], so these could well have been members of the church.


Paul was concerned because of the infancy of the church. He had only spent a few weeks with them before leaving for Athens. In his concern, he sent his delegate, Timothy, to visit the Thessalonians and to return with a report. While, on the whole, the news was encouraging, it also showed that important misunderstandings existed concerning Paul's teaching of Christianity. Paul devotes part of the letter to correcting these errors, and exhorts the Thessalonians to purity of life, reminding them that their sanctification is God's will for their lives.


The vast majority of New Testament scholars hold 1 Thessalonians to be authentic, although a number of scholars in the mid 19th century contested its authenticity, most notably Clement Schrader and F.C. Baur.[4] 1 Thess. matches other accepted Pauline letters, both in style and in content, and its authorship is also affirmed by 2 Thessalonians.

1 Thes. 2:13-16 have often been regarded as a post-Pauline interpolation. The following arguments have been based on the content: (1) the contradiction between Romans 9-11 and 1 Thes. 2:14-16. (2) The references to what has happened to Jews as a model for a Gentile Christian church. (3) There were no extensive persecutions of Christians by Jews in Palestine prior to the first Jewish war. (4) The use of the concept of imitation in 1 Thes. 2.14 is singular. (5) The aorist eftasen ("has overtaken") refers to the destruction of Jerusalem[5] (6) The syntax of 1 Thes. 2:13-16 deviates significantly from that of the surrounding context.[6]

It is also sometimes suggested that 1 Thes. 5:1-11 is a post-Pauline insertion that has many features of Lukan language and theology that serves as an apologetic correction to Paul's imminent expectation of the second coming in 1 Thes. 4:13-18.[7]

Other scholars such as Schmithals[8], Eckhart[9], Demke[10] and Munro[11] have developed complicated theories involving redaction and interpolation in 1 and 2 Thessalonians.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, Anchor Bible, 1997. pp. 456-466.
  2. Ernest Best, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians (New York: Harper and Row, 1972), p. 7
  3. Acts 17:4
  4. Best, Thessalonians, pp. 22-9.
  5. Birger A. Pearson, "1 Thessalonians 2:13-16 A Deutero Pauline Interpolation", Harvard Theological Review, 64 (1971), pp. 79-94
  6. Schmidt, D., "I Thess 2:13-16: Linguistic Evidence for an Interpolation," JBL 102 (1983): 269-279
  7. G. Friedrich, "1. Thessalonicher 5,1-11, der apologetische Einschub eines Spaeteren," ZTK 70 (1973) 289
  8. Schmithals, W., Paul and the Gnostics Transl. by J. Steely (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1972), 123-218
  9. K. G. Eckart, "Der zweite echte Brief des Apostels Paulus an die Thessalonicher," ZThK (1961), 30-44
  10. Theologie und Literarkritik im 1. Thessalonicherbrief
  11. The Later Stratum in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Authority in Paul and Peter: The Identification of a Pastoral Stratum in the Pauline Corpus and 1 Peter

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