Fausset's Bible Dictionary

The Epistles to the Thessalonians

FIRST EPISTLE. Authenticity. Ignatius, ad Polycarp 1, Ephesians 10, says "pray without ceasing" (1Th 5:17); so Polycarp, and Philippians 4. This epistle is in the Muratorian Canon, that of Marcion, and Laodicea, A.D. 364. Irenaeus (adv. Haer. 5:6, section 1) quotes 1Th 5:23; Clement of Alexandria (Paed. 1:88) quotes 1Th 2:7; Tertullian (de Resurr. Carnis 24) quotes 1Th 1:9-10; 1Th 5:1; Caius in Eusebius (Ecclesiastes Hist.) vi. 20, Origen (contra Celsus 3), also confirm it. Tertullian quotes this epistle 20 times.

AIM. After imprisonment and scourging at Philippi, Paul (1Th 2:2) passed on to Thessalonica. (See THESSALONICA.) With Silas (Act 16:3; Act 17:1-9; Act 17:14) and Timotheus he founded the church there (1Th 1:1; 1Th 3:1-6; 2Th 1:1). The Jews rejected the gospel when preached for three successive sabbaths; a few however "believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas, and of the devout (i.e. proselytes to Judaism) Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few." Amidst trials (1Th 1:6; 1Th 2:13) from their own countrymen and from the Jews (1Th 2:14-16) the converts "received the word with joy of the Holy Spirit."

His stay at Thessalonica was probably longer than the three weeks recorded in Act 17:2, for some time is implied in his labouring there for support (1Th 2:9; 2Th 3:8), in his receiving supplies there more than once from Philippi (Phi 4:16), in his receiving many converts from the Gentiles (1Th 1:9, and, according to the Alexandrinus manuscript of Act 17:4, though not the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus manuscripts, "of the devout (and) of the Greeks a great multitude"), and in his appointing ministers. He probably (compare Act 13:46; Act 18:6-7; Act 19:8-9) preached first to the Jews; then, when they rejected the message, to the Gentiles. Thenceforth he held the church assemblies in the house of Jason (Act 17:5), his "kinsman" (Rom 16:21). His tender love and gentleness, like that of "a nurse cherishing children," disinterestedness, devotion even unto death, and zeal for individual souls, beautifully appear in 1Th 1:5; 1Th 2:1-11.

He laboured here with his own hands to further the gospel by giving an example to the idle. Contributions from Philippi also helped him at, Thessalonica (Phi 4:15-16). Christ's coming and kingdom were his chief topic (1Th 1:10; 1Th 2:12; 1Th 2:19; 1Th 3:13; 1Th 4:13-18; 1Th 5:1-11; 1Th 5:23-24), that the Thessalonians should walk worthy of it (1Th 4:1). It is an undesigned coincidence confirming the authenticity of the history and of the epistles that the very charge which Jason's assailants brought against the brethren was "these do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus" (Act 17:5-9). So in Jesus' own case they perverted His doctrine of His coming kingdom into a charge of treason against Caesar. So also the doctrine of the resurrection is prominent both in Luke's history (Act 17:3) and in Paul's independent epistle (1Th 1:10; 1Th 4:14-16).

Paul and Silas had to flee by night to Berea; but the church and ministers had been constituted, and the Thessalonians became missionaries virtually themselves (for which the city's commerce gave facilities) both by word and by example, the report of which had reached Macedonia where Paul had been, and Achaia where he now was, at Corinth (1Th 1:7-8). From Berea Paul, after having planted a Scripture-loving church. was obliged to flee by the Thessalonian Jews who followed him there Timothy (who apparently came to Berea separately from Paul and Silas; compare Act 17:10 with Act 17:14) and Silas remained there still, when Paul proceeded by sea to Athens. While at Athens Paul longed to visit the Thessalonians again, and see their spiritual state, and "perfect that which was lacking in their faith" (1Th 3:10); but "Satan (through the instrumentality of the Thessalonian Jews probably, Joh 13:27) hindered" him (1Th 2:18; Act 17:13).

He therefore sent Timothy, who followed him apparently to Athens from Berea (Act 17:15), and immediately on his arrival at Athens to Thessalonica (1Th 3:1). Much as he would have desired Timothy's help against his Athenian opponents, he determined to forego it for the sake of the Thessalonian church. Silas does not appear to have come to Paul at Athens at all, though Paul had desired him and Timothy to "come to him with all speed" (Act 17:15), but with Timothy (who from Thessalonica called for him at Berea) joined Paul at Corinth first (Act 18:1; Act 18:5; "when Silas and Timothy were come from Macedonia".) The epistle mentions Timothy at Athens (1Th 3:12), but not Silas. Timothy "brought good tidings of the Thessalonian church's faith and love, and good remembrance of Paul, and desire to see him" as he desired to see them (1Th 3:6-10). Their defect was the exclusive dwelling of some on Christ's kingdom to such a degree as to neglect present duties (1Th 4:11-12).

Some who had lost relatives by death doubted whether they who died before Christ's coming would share with those found alive, in His kingdom then to be revealed. Some had been quarrelsome and revengeful (1Th 5:13; 1Th 5:15); others had even relapsed into pagan lusts, fornication, and adultery (1Th 4:3-10). Some were insubordinate toward ministers, and slighted the manifestations of the Spirit in those possessing His gifts as "prophesyings" (1Th 5:12-13; 1Th 5:19-20). To correct these defects, to praise their graces, and to testify his love, is Paul's aim in this epistle. The place of writing was Corinth, where Timothy, with Silas, rejoined Paul (Act 18:5).

THE TIME OF WRITING. Soon after Timothy's arrival with tidings of their state (1Th 2:17; 1Th 3:6), in the autumn A.D. 52. Paul wrote in the winter of that year, or else early in A.D. 53 at the beginning of his stay of one year and a half at Corinth (Act 18:11). (Timothy had been sent probably from Athens to inquire: 1Th 3:1-2). For it was written not long after the conversion of the Thessalonians (1Th 1:8-9), while Paul could speak of himself as only "taken from them for a short season" (1Th 2:17). Hence, it was first in date of all Paul's extant epistles. Paul, Silas, and Timothy, the three founders of the Thessalonion church, stand at its head in the inscription. "We" is written everywhere except in 1Th 2:18; 1Th 3:5; 1Th 5:27; "we" is the true reading in 1Th 4:13. The KJV "I" in 1Th 4:9; 1Th 5:1-23, is not in the original.

STYLE. Calm, practical, and uncontroversial, because he takes for granted the doctrinal truths, which were not yet controverted. Simple, less intense, and less marked by sudden turns of thought.

GROUPING OF PAUL'S EPISTLES. Impassioned argument and vehement feeling were reserved for subsequent epistles, which had to deal with fundamental errors of doctrine, as Judaizing legalism. The second group of epistles, Corinthians, Romans, and Galatians, five years later, in opposition to the latter, unfold the cardinal doctrines of grace and justification by faith. Still later, the epistles from his Roman prison, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philippians confirm the same. Last of all, the pastoral epistles suit the church's developed ecclesiastical constitution, and direct as to bishops and deacons, and correct abuses and errors of later growth. His opponents in 1 Thessalonians are Jews (1Th 2:16); but in the second group Judaizing Christians. The gospel preached in the epistles to the Thessalonians is that of Christ's coming kingdom rather than the cross; for the former best met the Messianic hopes which won Jewish believers to the Christian faith; it also especially comforted the infant church under trials, and in the sacrifice of worldly pleasure and gain. The healthy condition of all the Macedonian churches accounts for the close resemblance between this epistle and the epistle to Philippians, written ten years subsequently. Hence in both he begins with warm commendations, and drops the official title of "apostle" in the salutation.

DIVISION. The same prayer ("may God Himself," etc.) recurring at 1Th 3:11-13, and 1Th 5:24, (translated "may the God of peace Himself," etc.,) apparently marks the close of the two divisions.

PERSONS ADDRESSED. The prevalence of the Gentile element in them appears from the entire absence of quotations from the Old Testament in these two epistles; also from the address being to persons who had turned "from idols" (1Th 1:9).

SECOND EPISTLE. Genuineness. Polycarp (Ep. ad Philipp. 11) alludes to 1Th 1:4; 1Th 3:15, and so attests it. Justin Martyr (Dial.Trypho, 193, sec. 32) alludes to 2Th 2:3. Irenaeus (iii. 7, section 2) quotes 2Th 2:8. Clement of Alexandria quotes 2Th 3:2 as Paul's words (Strom. i. 5, section 554; Paedag. i. 17). Tertullian (de Resurr. Carnis, chap. 24) quotes 2Th 2:1-2 as part of Paul's epistles.

DESIGN. The report from Thessalonica after the first epistle represented the faith and love of the church there as on the increase, and their constancy amidst persecutions unshaken. Their only error needing correction was that Paul's description of Christ's sudden second coming (1Th 4:13; 1Th 5:2), possibly at any moment, led them to believe it actually imminent. Some professed to know by "the Spirit" (2Th 2:2) it was so, others declared Paul when with them had said so; a letter purporting to be from him to that effect was circulated among them (2Th 2:2, in 2Th 3:17 he marks his autograph salutation as the test whereby to know his genuine letters). Hence some ceased to mind their daily work, and cast themselves on the charity of others as if their only duty was to look for Christ's immediate coming. Paul therefore tells them (2 Thessalonians 2) that before the Lord shall come there must first be a great apostasy, and the man of sin be revealed; and that to neglect daily business would only bring scandal on the church, and was contrary to his own practice among them (2Th 3:7-9), and that believers must withdraw from such disorderly walkers (2Th 3:6; 2Th 3:10-15).


(1) 2Th 1:1-12; he commends the Thessalonians' faith, love, and patience, amidst persecutions.

(2) 2Th 2:1-17; corrects their error as to Christ's immediate coming, and foretells that the man of sin must first rise and perish. (See ANTICHRIST.)

(3) 2Th 3:1-16; exhorts to orderly conduct, prays the God of peace in their behalf, autograph salutation and blessing.

DATE AND PLACE OF WRITING. He must have written at Corinth during his one year and six months' stay (Act 18:11, namely, beginning with the autumn A.D. 52, and ending with the spring A.D. 54), probably six months after his first epistle A.D. 53; for Timothy and Silas, whose names are joined with his own in the inscription were with him at Corinth, and not with him for a long time after he left that city (Act 18:18, compare Act 19:22). Silas was probably never afterward any length of time with Paul.

STYLE. It resembles that of Paul's other epistles, save in the prophetic part. In the latter (as in more solemn passages, e.g. Col 2:8; Col 2:16 with 2Th 1:3; 1Co 15:24-28 with 2Th 1:8-9; Rom 1:18 with 2Th 1:8; 2Th 1:10) his style is elevated, abrupt, and elliptical. As 1Th 4:5 dwells on Christ's coming in its aspect of glory to the sleeping and living saints, so this epistle on its aspect of everlasting perdition to the wicked and to him who shall consummate all iniquity as the man of sin (2 Thessalonians 2). So far was Paul in writing 1 Thessalonians from being mistaken as to Christ's speedy coming that he had distinctly told them, when with them, the same truths as to the precursory apostasy which he now more emphatically repeats (2Th 2:5). Several coincidences between 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians confirm the genuineness of the latter.

Thus, compare 2Th 3:2, "that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men," with 1Th 2:15-16; compare Act 17:6. Also 2Th 2:9, "the man of sin" coming after the working of "Satan," with 1Th 2:18; 1Th 3:5, where Satan appears in his earlier phase as "hinderer" of the gospel and "tempter." Also instead of warning in 1Th 5:14 stricter discipline is substituted, now that the evil has become worse (2Th 3:6; 2Th 3:14, "withdraw from the company".) Paul probably visited Thessalonica subsequently (Act 20:4) on his way to Asia, and took with him thence the Thessalonians Aristarchus and Secundus. Aristarchus was his "companion in travel," and shared his perils at Ephesus and his shipwreck, and was his "fellow prisoner" and "fellow labourer" at Rome (Act 27:2; Col 4:10; Phm 1:24).


Taken from: Fausset's Bible Dictionary by Andrew Robert Fausset (1821-1910)