STUDY 12 - THE THESSALONIAN
For this study see: M.C.Tenney, pp.282-286; R.H.Gundry, pp.353-358.
Further reading: D.A.Carson, et al., An
Introduction to the New
The background to these early Pauline epistles is found in the
Acts of the Apostles.
1. AUTHORSHIP AND DESTINATION
Background to the epistles
Paul's secondary missionary journey provides the background to the two
epistles (see Acts 16-18. Note especially Acts 17:1-9). "They
were written within a few months of each other while Paul was engaged
in the ministry in Achaia. The first letter was written on receipt of
the report that Timothy brought back to Corinth, and it included his
name and that of Silas in its greeting" (M.C.Tenney). 
The Thessalonian converts
The Spirit of God directed Paul into Europe. Taking the Egnatian
Way he arrived at Thessalonica with Silas and Timothy. The
apostle preached with some success in the local synagogue on three
successive sabbaths (Acts 17:2). Converts included Jews,
God-fearers, and a number of the city's 'prominent women'. The
majority of them appear to be non-Jews involved in idolatry. The
contents of his gospel message may be indicated by 1 Thess.1:9-10:
"For they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They
tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,
and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead -
Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath".
Persecution caused the apostle to move on to Berea and then to
Athens. From here Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica to support
the new Christians, while he travelled on to Corinth. Later, Timothy
brought news about the young church to Paul at Corinth, which prompted
the writing of the first letter.
2. DATE AND PLACE OF WRITING
Place of writing
It is commonly held that the epistle was written from Corinth as a
response to Timothy's good news that the young church was going on in
the faith (3:6). The apostle had ministered in Achaia and Athens
Date of writing
The fact that Paul was brought before Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia,
helps with dating (Acts 18:12-16). An inscription at Delphi sees
Gallio in office in A.D. 52. The length of his office is not
known, nor do we know exactly when Paul appeared before him. Therefore
a date of c.A.D. 50/51 is generally agreed.
3. CONTENTS AND OUTLINE
The contents of the epistle
The textbook indicates:
"Its content is generally twofold: praise for the steadfastness of the
Thessalonians under persecution from the Jews and the correction of
certain errors and misunderstandings that had grown up among
them. The main doctrinal theme concerned the return of Christ, a
topic that is scarcely mentioned in Galatians unless it appears in
Paul's allusion to waiting for the hope of righteousness (Gal.5:5)." 
The parousia, or return of Christ, was part of the apostolic
preaching. This is supported further by other NT references
(e.g., Acts 3:21; 17:31 and Jam.5:7-8).
An outline of the epistle
The heart of the epistle is pastoral, its emphasis practical, and its
touch personal. This is M.C.Tenney's analysis and outline of the book:
1 Thessalonians: The
Growth of a New Church Salutation (1:1)
The state of the church (1:2-10)
The apostle's relations with the church (2:1-3:13)
The problems of the church (4:1-5:11)
Concluding exhortations and greetings (5:12-28).
The pastoral concern of Paul is very evident in this
letter. He followed up his pioneer works in a number of ways,
including letters. The problems he addressed in the epistle are
especially those associated with the Gentile believers, and compare
with those in Galatians. For example, Paul deals with fornication
(4:3) and idleness (4:11; 5:14). The background to the letter is
persecution (1:6), and the answer given to it is loving fellowship
(4:9-10). Paul has to clarify his teaching on the parousia because some
of the fellowship had died. What would happen to them at the Lord's
return? (See 1 Thess.4:13-18.) The thought of the Lord coming as a
'thief in the night' (5:4) compares with the teaching of Jesus
(Mt.24:43; Lk.12:39-40). Note the practical nature of the letter
in the light of the truth of the Lord's return.
M.C.Tenney says, "The second epistle to the Thessalonians was written
to remove the misapprehension that 'the day of the Lord is just at
hand' (2:2)".  Paul was repudiating some teaching falsely attributed
to him by others, perhaps especially in the form of a forged
letter. So, he writes: "Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus
Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to
become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter
supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has
already come" (2:1-2).
1. CONTENTS AND OUTLINE
M.C.Tenney's outline of the epistle is mindful of its
2 Thessalonians: The
Expectation of the Church
Expectation in persecution (1:3-12)
Explanation of events (2:1-17)
Exhortations to readiness (3:1-15)
Benediction and salutation (3:16-18).
2. EVALUATION OF THE EPISTLE
There is a very strong eschatological feel about this
epistle. Paul says that 'signs' are to precede the coming of the
Lord. Apparently three major events will presage the Lord's coming:
A sudden acceleration of apostasy from godliness (2:3)
The removal of some restraining influence (2:6-7)
The complete unveiling of the incarnation of evil who will
by Satan and who will oppose and exalt himself above all that is called
Again, as with 1 Thessalonians, the practical teaching of this epistle
is thrown into sharp relief by its eschatological emphasis
(3:6-15). Christians must live in the light of the Lord's return.
3. TRADITION AND AUTHORITY
M.C.Tenney makes a important note on the subject of tradition
in the NT church:
"First and Second Thessalonians are among the first of Paul's
writings. They testify that the message Paul preached was no
novelty, but that it had already been a settled body of faith for some
time. Paul's reference to his preaching among them (2 Thess.2:15)
the same things that he wrote in his letter shows that he had a
well-defined system of belief, and his use of the word 'tradition'
(2:15; 3:6) corroborates this impression. For Paul 'tradition'
did not mean a loosely transmitted rumour of doubtful
authenticity. It meant rather a body of instruction that may have
been oral, but was carefully preserved and exactly formulated. He
used the cognate verb in describing his transmission of the facts of
the life of Christ, which for him constituted the gospel (1 Cor.15:3: delivered), and Luke used the same
verb to describe the narration of
the facts of the life of Christ by eyewitnesses (Lk.1:2). The
'tradition' must have included ethical precepts, for he implied that it
was a rule of conduct that the brethren could follow (2 Thess.3:6)".
Tenney adds, "This tradition, furthermore, was not only authentic but
authoritative. In Galatians Paul said that his gospel was
exclusive in its truth and that no other could be substituted for it."
 Study 2 Thess.3:14 here. Paul's tradition was apostolic (see
1 Cor.15:1-3; cf., 11:23) and also divine (1 Thess.2:13; cf.,
1. M.C.Tenney, p.282.
2. M.C.Tenney, p.282.
3. M.C.Tenney, p.284.
4. M.C.Tenney, pp.285-286.