The Second Epistle to the Thessalonians
The contents of the letter naturally falls into three parts:
I. Introduction, ch. 1. The apostle begins his letter with the regular blessing, 1, 2. He thanks God for the increasing faith and patience of the Thessalonians, reminding them of the fact that in the day of Christ’s coming God will provide rest for his persecuted church and will punish her persecutors; and prays that God may fulfil his good pleasure in them to the glory of his Name, 3—12.
II. Instruction respecting the Parousia, ch. 2. The church is warned against deception regarding the imminence of the great day of Christ and is informed that it will not come until the mystery of iniquity has resulted in the great apostacy, and the man of sin has been revealed whose coming is after the work of satan, and who will utterly deceive men to their own destruction, 1—12. The Thessalonians need not fear the manifestation of Christ, since they were chosen and called to everlasting glory; and it is the apostles wish that the Lord may comfort their hearts and establish them in all good work, 13—17.
III. Practical Exhortations, ch. 3. The writer requests the prayer of the church for himself that he may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men, and exhorts her to do what he commanded, 1—5. They should withdraw from those who are disorderly and do not work, because each one should labor for his daily bread and thus follow the example of the apostle, 6—12. Those who do not heed the apostolic word should be censured, 13—15. With a blessing and a salutation the apostle closes his letter, 16—18.
1. The main characteristic of this letter is found in the apocalyptic passage, 2:1-12. In these verses, that contain the most essential part of the Epistle, Paul speaks as a prophet, revealing to his beloved church that the return of Christ will be preceded by a great final apostacy and by the revelation of the man of sin, the son of perdition who, as the instrument of satan, will deceive men, so that they accept the lie and are condemned in the great day of Christ. II Thessalonians, no doubt, was written primarily for the sake of this instruction.
2. Aside from this important doctrinal passage the Epistle has a personal and practical character. It contains expressions of gratitude for the faith and endurance of the persecuted church, words of encouragement for the afflicted, fatherly advice for the spiritual children of the apostle, and directions as to their proper behavior.
3. The style of this letter, like that of I Thessalonians, is simple and direct, except in 2:1-12, where the tone is more elevated. This change is accounted for by the prophetic contents of that passage. The language clearly reveals the working of the vigorous mind of Paul, who in the expression of his thoughts was not limited to a few stock phrases. Besides the many expressions that are characteristically Pauline the Epistle contains several that are peculiar to it, and also a goodly number which it has in common only with I Thessalonians. Of the 26 ἅπαξ λεγόμενα in the letter 10 are not found in the rest of the New Testament, and 16 are used elsewhere in the New Testament but not in the writings of Paul.
The external testimony for the authenticity of this Epistle is just as strong as that for the genuineness of the first letter. Marcion has it in his canon, the Muratorian Fragment names it, and it is also found in the old Latin and Syriac Versions. From the time of Irenaeus it is regularly quoted as a letter of Paul, and Origen and Eusebius claim that it was universally received in their time.
The Epistle itself claims to be the work of Paul, 1: 1; and again in 3:17, where the apostle calls attention to the salutation as a mark of genuineness. The persons associated with the writer in the composition of this letter are the same as those mentioned in I Thessalonians. As in the majority of Paul’s letters the apostolic blessing is followed by a thanksgiving. The Epistle is very similar to I Thessalonians and contains some cross-references to it, as f. i. in the case of the parousia and of the idlers. It clearly reveals the character of the great apostle, and its style may confidently be termed Pauline.
Nevertheless the genuineness of the Epistle has been doubted far more than that of I Thessalonians. Schmidt was the first one to assail it in 1804; in this he was followed by Schrader, Mayerhof and De Wette, who afterwards changed his mind, however. The attack was renewed by Kern and Baur in whose school the rejection of the Epistle became general. Its authenticity is defended by Reuss, Sabatier, Hofmann, Weiss, Zahn, Julicher, Farrar, Godet, Baljon, Moffat e. a.
The principal objections urged against the
genuineness of this letter are the following: (1) The teaching
of Paul regarding the parousia in 2:1-12 is not consistent with
what he wrote in
But the objections raised are not sufficient to
discredit the authenticity of our Epistle. The contradictions in
Paul’s teaching regarding the parousia of Christ, are more
apparent than real. The signs that precede the great day will
not detract from its suddenness any more than the signs of
Noah’s time prevented the flood from taking his contemporaries
by surprise. Moreover these two features, the suddenness of
Christ’s appearance and the portentous facts that are the
harbingers of his coming, always go hand in hand in the
eschatological teachings of Scripture.
The eschatology of the second chapter has given
rise to much discussion and speculation regarding the date and
authorship of the Epistle, but recent investigations into the
conditions of the early church have clearly brought out that the
contents of this chapter in no way militate against the
genuineness of the letter. Hence they who deny the Pauline
authorship have ceased to place great reliance on it. There is
nothing improbable in the supposition that Paul wrote the
passage regarding the man of sin. We find similar
representations as early as the time of Daniel (cf.
We fail to see the force of the third argument, unless it is an established fact that Paul could not repeat himself to a certain degree, even in two Epistles written within the space of a few months, on a subject that engaged the mind of the apostle for some time, to the same church and therefore with a view to almost identical conditions. This argument looks strange especially in view of the following one, which urges the rejection of this letter, because it is so unlike the other Pauline writings. The points of difference between our letter and I Thessalonians are generally exaggerated, and the examples cited by Davidson to prove the dissimilarity are justly ridiculed by Salmon, who styles such criticism “childish criticism, that is to say, criticism such as might proceed from a child who insists that a story shall always be told to him in precisely the same way.” Introd. p. 398. The salutation in 3:17 does not point to a time later than that of Paul, since he too had reason to fear the evil influence of forged Epistles, 2: 2. He merely states that, with a view to such deception, he would in the future authenticate all his letters by attaching an autographic salutation.
1. Occasion and Purpose. Evidently some additional information regarding the state of affairs at Thessalonica had reached Paul, it may be through the bearers of the first Epistle, or by means of a communication from the elders of the church. It seems that some letter had been circulated among them, purporting to come from Paul, and that some false spirit was at work in the congregation. The persecution of the Thessalonians still continued and had probably increased in force, and in some way the impression had been created that the day of the Lord was at hand. This led on the one hand to feverish anxiety, and on the other, to idleness. Hence the apostle deemed it necessary to write a second letter to the Thessalonians.
The purpose of the writer was to encourage the sorely pressed church; to calm the excitement by pointing out that the second advent of the Lord could not be expected immediately, since the mystery of lawlessness had to develop first and to issue in the man of sin; and to exhort the irregular ones to a quiet, industrious and orderly conduct.
Time and Place. Some writers, such as Grotius, Ewald,
Vander Vies and Laurent advocated the theory that II
Thessalonians was written before I Thessalonians, but the
arguments adduced to support that position cannot bear the
The early Church found no reason to doubt the canonicity of this letter. Little stress can be laid, it is true, on the supposed reference to its language in Ignatius, Barnabas, the Didache and Justin Martyr. It is quite evident, however, that Polycarp used the Epistle. Moreover it has a place in the canon of Marcion, is mentioned among the Pauline letters in the Muratorian Fragment, and is contained in the old Latin and Syriac Versions. Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian and others since their time, quote it by name. The great permanent value of this Epistle lies in the fact that it corrects false notions regarding the second advent of Christ, notions that led to indolence and disorderliness. We are taught in this Epistle that the great day of Christ will not come until the mystery of iniquity that is working in the world receives its full development, and brings forth the son of perdition who as the very incarnation of satan will set himself against Christ and his Church. If the Church of God had always remembered this lesson, she would have been spared many an irregularity and disappointment. The letter also reminds us once more of the fact that the day of the Lord will be a day of terror to the wicked, but a day of deliverance and glory for the Church of Christ.