An American Commentary on the New Testament

Edited by Hovey, Alvah

Introduction to the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians


Much that has been said in the Introduction to the First Epistle applies also to this. The latter, indeed, is for the most part a sequel and supplement to the First, dealing with the same general topics, and suggested by the same circumstances. The church was still exposed to persecution, its heart throbbing with high hope, but restless under delay, and still requiring admonition to order, industry, and patient faith.

It is generally believed to have been written within a few months after the First, probably in the year fifty-three. It is evidently from Corinth, for both Silas and Timothy were still with Paul; after the residence in Corinth, which terminated in the spring of fifty-four, Silas appears to have been no longer a companion of the apostle. Moreover, the letter follows so closely the lines of thought marked out in the earlier one as obviously to suggest the hypothesis of the shortest possible interval between the two. One is conscious of a slightly heightened tone of authority pervading this Epistle: the duty of the church to maintain its own discipline in a given case is strongly enforced.

The main object is evidently to communicate further instruction concerning the Advent, and especially to correct misapprehension or perversion of what the writer had previously stated, at the same time to counteract the influence of misleading teachers concerning the doctrine. The church was now making unwarrantable calculations as to the date of the Parousia, and some were claiming that "the Day" had already come. the present letter declares that to be an en-or. Two events still in the future were to precede it; namely, the Apostasy, and the Revelation of the Man of Sin; to remind them anew of this fact is the main object of the letter.

The second chapter contains the Pauline apocalypse. It is the only description found in all the writings of Paul of that impersonated form of evil elsewhere called the Antichrist. It is a parallel picture, though written many years earlier and from a strikingly different environment, to that of the "False Prophet," and to that of "the Beast coming up out of the earth," depicted by John in Revelation. Gazing down the vista of human history, the apostle beholds, as it were, "the Last Man" in the long line of earth's incarnations of sin, and in a few broken, vivid sentences that rise into prophetic rapture declares his coming doom. Obscure in its immediate historical reference, an enigma to interpreters in every age, it is nevertheless replete with moral suggestion, and is a fragment of priceless importance for the complete exposition of the Pauline doctrine of sin.

A few modern critics, beginning with C. Schmidt in 1801, have doubted or attacked the genuineness of the letter. The reader may find the leading objections stated and answered in Lunemann, more fully in Pelt. Kern (1839) has woven what is perhaps the most acute and elaborate argument to prove the Epistle spurious; he holds that it was written between A. D. 68 and 70 (that is, after the apostle's death) by a disciple of Paul. More recently it is the integrity, rather than the genuineness of the Epistle as a whole, that has been questioned. The second chapter is held to be of later date than the rest, and not to have been written in the lifetime of Paul. One argument against the genuineness of this chapter, or of the whole Epistle, is founded on the assumption that Nero is the person denoted by the Man of Sin — it being also assumed that neither Paul nor any other New Testament writer was inspired to predict future events. Schürer (in the "Encyclopedia Britannica ") considers the question still an open one. Its discussion involves fundamental principles of apologetics and interpretation, and does not fall within the scope of the present Introduction. To the present writer the arguments of recent criticism against the genuineness of the Second Epistle seem quite as futile as those brought against the First.

It falls naturally into three divisions, corresponding to the three chapters:

Chapter 1, Introductory topics.

Chapter 2, Christ's Coming, and the Man of Sin.

Chapter 3, Closing Exhortations, and Benediction.