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Manuscript evidence is the same for II Thessalonians as for I Thessalonians; so, too, the evidence of the ancient versions. The Apostolic and Apologetic Fathers are more clearly in favour of II Thess. than of I Thess. St. Ignatius, in Rom., x, 3, cites a phrase of II Thess., iii, 5, eis ten hypomonen tou Christou, "in the patience of Christ". Polycarp (XI, 3) refers the letter expressly to Paul, although, by a slip of the memory, he takes it that the Apostle glories (II Thess., i, 4) in another Macedonian Church, that of the Philippians; elsewhere (XI, 1) Polycarp uses II Thess., iii, 15. St. Justin (about A.D. 150), in "Dialog.", xxxii (P.G., VI, 544), seems to have in mind the eschatological language of this letter. Besides it is set down as Pauline in the Canon of Marcion (about A.D. 140).
The literary dependence of II Thessalonians on I Thessalonians cannot be gainsaid. The writer of the former must have written the latter, and that too not very long thereafter. II Thess., ii, 15, and iii, 6, are to be explained by I Thess., iv, 1-8 and 11. The style of the two letters is admittedly identical; the prayers (I, iii 11, v, 23; II, ii, 16, iii, 16), greetings (I, i, 1; II, i, 1, 2) thanks (I, i, 2; II, i, 3), and transitions (I, iv, 1; II, iii, 1) are remarkably alike in form. Two-thirds of II Thess. is like to I Thess. in vocabulary and style. Moreover, the structure of the Epistle, its subject-matter, and its affectionate outbursts of prayer for the recipients and of exhortation are all decidedly Pauline characteristics. The argument from internal evidence is so strong as to have won over such critics as Harnack (Chronologie, I, 238) and Jülicher (Einleitung, 40). Schmiedel, Holtzmann, Weizacker, and others deny the force of this argument from internal evidence. Its very similarity to I Thess. in vocabulary and style is made to militate against the authenticity of II Thess.; the letter is too Pauline; the author was a clever forger, who, some sixty years later, took up I Thess. and worked it over. There has been no motive assigned for such a forgery; no proof given that any post-Apostolic writer was so cunning as to palm off thus letter as a Pauline imitation.
The chief objection is that the eschatology of II Thess. contradicts that of I Thess.: the letter is in this un-Pauline. In I Thess., iv, 14-v, 3, the writer says the Parousia is imminent; in II Thess., ii, 2-12, iii, 11, the writer sets the Parousia a long time off. Non-Catholics who hold the Pauline authorship of the two letters generally admit that Paul predicted the second coming would be within his own lifetime and deem that the signs narrated in II Thess., ii, as preludes to that coming do not imply a long interval nor that Paul expected to die before these signs occurred. Catholics insist that Paul cannot have said the Parousia would be during his lifetime. Had he said so he would have erred; the inspired word of God would err; the error would be that of the Holy Spirit more than of Paul. True, the Douay Version seems to imply that the Parousia is at hand: "Then we who are alive, who are left, shall be taken up together with them in the clouds to meet Christ, into the air, and so shall we always be with the Lord" (I Thess., iv, 16). The Vulgate is no clearer: "Nos, qui vivimus, qui residui sumus " etc. (iv, 15-17). The original text solves the difficulty: hemeis oi zontes oi paraleipomenoi, ama syn autois arpagesometha. Here the Hellenistic syntax parallels the Attic. The sentence is conditional. The two participles present stand for two futures preceded by ei; the participles have the place of a protasis. The translation is: "We, if we be alive -- if we be left -- [on earth], shall be taken up" etc. A similar construction is used by Paul in I Cor., xi, 29 (cf. Moulton "Grammar of New Testament Greek", Edinburgh, 1906, I, 230). St. Paul is here no more definite about the time of the Parousia than he was in I Thess., v, 2, when he wrote "that the day of the Lord shall so come, as a thief in the night." There is in St. Paul's eschatology the very same indefiniteness about the lime of the Parousia that there is in the eschatological sayings of Jesus as related in the Synoptics (Matt., xxiv, 5-45; Mark, xiii, 7-37; Luke, xxi 20-36). "Of that day or hour no man knoweth, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father" (Mark, xiii, 32). In the deposit of faith given by the Father to the Son, to be given by the Son to the Church, the time of the Parousia was not contained. We readily admit that St. Paul did not know the time of the Parousia; we cannot admit that he knew it wrong and wrote it wrong as the inspired Word of God and a part of the deposit of faith.
As for the further objection that the apocalyptic character of ii, 2-12, is post-Pauline and dependent upon so late a composition as the Apocalypse of John (A.D. 93-96) or, worse still upon the Nero redivivus story (Tacitus "Hist.", II, viii), we answer that this assertion is entirely gratuitous. St. Paul got his apocalyptic ideas from the very same source as John, that is either from revelation to himself or from the Old Testament or from tradition. Most of the details of his apocalyptic description of the Parousia are given in other apocalypses (I John, ii, 18; Matt., xxiv, 24; Luke, xxi, 8; Mark, xiii, 22; Deut., xiii, 1-5; Ezech., xxxviii and xxxix; Dan., vii-ix, xi, xii, etc.). The man of sin, Antichrist, Belial, the well-nigh complete triumph of evil just before the end of time, the almost general apostasy, the portents, and other items are features familiar to Old-Testament and New-Testament apocalyptic writings.
Time, Place and occassion.
The canonicity of II Thessalonians has been treated together with that of I Thessalonians.
II Thessalonians was written at Corinth not long after I Thessalonians, for both Timothy and Silas are still with Paul (i, 1), and the silence of the Acts shows that, once Paul left Corinth, Silas was not again his companion in the ministry. There seem to be allusions in iii, 2, to the troublous stay of a year and a half at Corinth (Acts, xviii); in ii, 14, to the letter quite recently written to the Thessalonians; and in iii, 7-9, to the ministry of Paul among them as not long passed.
The eschatology of I Thessalonians had been misunderstood by the Thessalonians; they took it, the day of the Lord was at hand (ii, 2); they were overwrought by the exaggerations of some meddlers and perhaps by a forged letter which purported to have come from Paul (ii, 2; iii, 17). Moreover the disorderly conduct of some (iii, 6, 11) gave the Apostle no little concern; this concern he showed by the letter.
The three chapters into which the letter is now divided, aptly analyze the thought. In the first chapter are a greeting, thanksgiving for the faith and love of the Thessalonians, and an assurance of Divine recompense to them and to their persecutors. In the second chapter is the main thought of the letter -- the eschatology. Certain signs are detailed which must precede the Parousia. Until these signs appear, there is no reason for terror or taking leave of their senses. The third chapter is the usual Pauline request for prayers, a charge to avoid the disorderly, a truly Pauline allusion to the example he set them, and the final identification of the letter by a greeting written with his own hand.