Introduction To The First Epistle Of Paul To The Thessalonians
Thessalonica was a city in Macedonia (see note 1 at Ac 16:9), or what we now call Greece. Paul traveled to Thessalonica after being released from prison in Philippi (Ac 16:40-17:1). Thessalonica was the second major city where Paul ministered after having the vision of a man calling him over into Macedonia (Ac 16:9).
Paul had a relatively brief ministry in Thessalonica because persecution drove him from the city; but the Word of God did make an impact, and a church was established. This letter to the church at Thessalonica gives us great insight into Paul's ministry and its effect in that city.
In 1Th 1:5, Paul mentioned that his preaching came to the Thessalonians in power and in the Holy Ghost. This is comparable to what Paul said in 1Co 2:1-5 and 4:20, and it is speaking of the miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit. No doubt one of the reasons Paul made such an impact in such a short time was that the Holy Spirit was working through him with signs and wonders.
Those who believed Paul's message became like him (1Th 1:6), so much so that they "sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad" (1Th 1:8). These were committed believers.
Paul had such an impact that he was driven from the city by persecution from the religious Jews (Ac 17:5-10). After leaving Thessalonica, Paul and his company went to Berea, which was about forty miles west along the Roman road called the Egnatian Way. However, the Jews who had persecuted him in Thessalonica came to Berea and caused the Berean Jews to expel Paul from their city also.
Paul went south to Athens, but left Timothy and Silas in Berea. When Paul reached Athens, he soon sent for Timothy and Silas to join him (Ac 17:15). Paul was so concerned for the Thessalonians' welfare that he sent Timothy back to check on them (1Th 3:5). Timothy joined Paul again in Corinth with good news about the Thessalonians' faith and their love for Paul (1Th 3:6). This was what led Paul to write the letter of 1 Thessalonians.
In this letter, he encouraged the Thessalonians to persevere in light of their many persecutions. He also wrote to correct various errors that had crept into the church. In addition, this letter contains one of the clearest teachings concerning the resurrection of the saints who have already died and the "catching up" of the believers who are still alive (1Th 4:13-18).
Paul and his companions had come to Thessalonica early on his second missionary journey, sometime around A.D. 51 (see note 1 at Ac 18:22). As was his custom, he went into the Jewish synagogue and reasoned with the Jews from Scripture that Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah. This continued for about three weeks. Some believed Paul's preaching (among the Greeks, there was a great number that believed [Ac 17:4]). The unbelieving Jews became very jealous and hired some people to cause an uproar in the city. They accused Paul of breaking the Roman laws by proclaiming Jesus to be king instead of Caesar (Ac 17:5-7).
The leaders of the city became very upset, and a man named Jason was fined, as were some other believers. There was so much opposition that finally Paul and his companions were forced to leave (Ac 17:9-10).
Thessalonica (see note 3 at Ac 17:1) was the largest and most important city in Macedonia (see note 1 at Ac 16:9). It was also the capital. It has been estimated that in New Testament times, Thessalonica had a population of around 200,000.
"Thessalonica, the modern Salonica, was founded about 315 B.C. by Cassander, who named it in honor of his wife, the half-sister of Alexander the Great. It was situated on the most famous of Roman military roads, the Egnatian Way, which connected Rome with the East. It was a seaport and a center of trade and commerce; a city ideally suited to Paul's missionary strategy" (Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia, Volume 5, p. 723).
The church founded there was composed largely of Gentiles (1Th 1:9, 2:14; and Ac 17:4). It was a vigorous church that grew quickly in size and commitment.
Paul's authorship of the epistles to the Thessalonians is unquestioned by most scholars. Both 1 and 2 Thessalonians begin with the statement, "Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians" (1Th 1:1 and 2Th 1:1).
For positive evidence of Paul's authorship, consider the following: (1) The epistles are presented as being from Paul; (2) Paul's companions who are mentioned at the beginning of the epistles accompanied him on his second missionary trip (Ac 15:40, 17:14, and 18:5); (3) the theological thought is Pauline; and (4) extra-biblical sources such as Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Marcion, and Irenaeus all refer to Paul as the author of the letters to the Thessalonians.
Date And Place Of Writing
These letters were written from Corinth between A.D. 50 and 54 (Ac 17:1-10 and 18:1). This would make these epistles among the earliest of Paul's writings, probably after Galatians. It appears that 2 Thessalonians was written shortly after 1 Thessalonians, most likely within four months to a year.