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First Epistle to the Thessalonians

The First Epistle to the Thessalonians, usually referred to simply as First Thessalonians and often written 1 Thessalonians, is a book from the New Testament of the Christian Bible. The first letter to the Thessalonians was probably the first of Paul's letters, probably written by the end of AD 52,[1] making it the first written book in the New Testament.


Most New Testament scholars believe Paul the Apostle 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 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.[3] 1 Thessalonians matches other accepted Pauline letters, both in style and in content, and its authorship is also affirmed by 2 Thessalonians.[4]

1 Thessalonians 2:13–16 have often been regarded as a post-Pauline interpolation. The following arguments have been based on the content: (1) It is perceived to be theologically incompatible with Paul's other epistles: elsewhere Paul attributed Jesus's death to the "rulers of this age" (1 Cor 2:8) rather than to the Jews, and elsewhere Paul writes that the Jews have not been abandoned by God for "all Israel will be saved" (Rom 11:26); According to 1 Thes 1:10, the wrath of God is still to come, it is not something that has already shown itself [5] (2) There were no extensive historical persecutions of Christians by Jews in Palestine prior to the first Jewish war[6] (3) The use of the concept of imitation in 1 Thes. 2.14 is singular. (4) The aorist eftasen ("has overtaken") refers to the destruction of Jerusalem[7] (5) The syntax of 1 Thes. 2:13–16 deviates significantly from that of the surrounding context.[8]

File:Minuscule 699 (GA) folio 18.jpg
The first page of the epistle in Minuscule 699 gives its title as προς θεσσαλονικεις, "To the Thessalonians."

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.[9]

Other scholars, such as Schmithals,[10] Eckhart,[11] Demke[12] and Munro,[13] have developed complicated theories involving redaction and interpolation in 1 and 2 Thessalonians.

Church members

Paul claimed the title of the "Apostle to the Gentiles", and established gentile churches in several important cities in the Roman Empire.[14] The Thessalonians to whom the letter is addressed were the mainly gentile Christians of the congregation he had founded. This reflects the ethnic and religious makeup of that congregation in Thessalonica, and is supported by Paul's brief remark in 1:9 that they "turned to God from idols." It was gentiles, not Jews, who stopped worshiping idols.

According to Ehrman, the Book of Acts tells a different story of Paul's career,[14] but in this case it reports that, while there were "some" Jews converted during Paul's initial preaching in Thessalonica, the gentiles who were converted were "a large number" and the Jews as a body fiercely opposed Paul's work there.[15]


Paul was concerned because of the infancy of the church. He had spent only 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.



  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)
  5. How Christians should behave (1 Thes. 5:12–25)
  6. Closing salutation (1 Thes. 5:26–28)


Paul, speaking for himself, 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 be available only 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 greet the Lord in the air. 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]

See also


  1. ^ a b 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. ^ Best, Thessalonians, pp. 22–9.
  4. ^ "The only possible reference to a previous missive is in 2:15...." Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, Anchor Bible, 1997. p. 590.
  5. ^ CollegeVille Bible Commentary, p 1155
  6. ^ Pearson, p. 88
  7. ^ Birger A. Pearson, "1 Thessalonians 2:13–16 A Deutero Pauline Interpolation", Harvard Theological Review, 64 (1971), pp. 79–94
  8. ^ Schmidt, D., "I Thess 2:13–16: Linguistic Evidence for an Interpolation," JBL 102 (1983): 269–279
  9. ^ G. Friedrich, "1. Thessalonicher 5,1–11, der apologetische Einschub eines Spaeteren," ZTK 70 (1973) 289
  10. ^ Schmithals, W., Paul and the Gnostics Transl. by J. Steely (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1972), 123–218
  11. ^ K. G. Eckart, "Der zweite echte Brief des Apostels Paulus an die Thessalonicher," ZThK (1961), 30–44
  12. ^ Theologie und Literarkritik im 1. Thessalonicherbrief
  13. ^ 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
  14. ^ a b Ehrman, Bart. Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend. Oxford University Press, USA. 2006. ISBN 0-19-530013-0
  15. ^ Acts 17:4–5

12px This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainEaston, Matthew George (1897). "Thessalonians, Epistles to the". Easton's Bible Dictionary (New and revised ed.). T. Nelson and Sons. 

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First Epistle to the Thessalonians
Preceded by
New Testament
Books of the Bible
Succeeded by
Second Thessalonians