Bible Book Number 52—1 Thessalonians
Place Written: Corinth
Writing Completed: c. 50 C.E.
1. (a) How did First Thessalonians come to be written? (b) When was this, and what distinction does the letter thus enjoy?
IT WAS about the year 50 C.E. that the apostle Paul, during his second preaching tour, visited the Macedonian city of Thessalonica and there established a Christian congregation. Within a year, while in Corinth accompanied by Silvanus (Silas of the book of Acts) and Timothy, Paul was moved to write his first letter to the Thessalonians to comfort them and build them up in the faith. It was likely late 50 C.E. This letter apparently enjoys the distinction of being the first of Paul’s writings to become part of the Bible canon and, with the probable exception of Matthew’s Gospel, the first book of the Christian Greek Scriptures to be put into writing.
2. What evidence is there for the writership and authenticity of First Thessalonians?
2 The evidence supporting the authenticity and integrity of the letter is overwhelming. Paul identifies himself by name as the writer, and the book is internally harmonious with the rest of the inspired Word. (1 Thess. 1:1; 2:18) The epistle is mentioned by name in many of the earliest catalogs of the inspired Scriptures, including the Muratorian Fragment.a First Thessalonians is either quoted or alluded to by many of the early ecclesiastical writers, including Irenaeus (second century C.E.), who mentions it by name. The Chester Beatty Papyrus No. 2 (P46), of about 200 C.E., contains First Thessalonians, and another papyrus of the third century (P30), now in Ghent, Belgium, contains fragments of both First and Second Thessalonians.b
3, 4. What resulted from the early success of Paul’s ministry at Thessalonica?
3 A glance at the brief history of the congregation at Thessalonica, prior to the writing of this letter, establishes the background for Paul’s deep concern for the brothers in that city. From the very beginning, the congregation underwent severe persecution and opposition. In Acts chapter 17, Luke reports the arrival of Paul and Silas at Thessalonica, “where there was a synagogue of the Jews.” For three Sabbaths, Paul preached to them, reasoning with them from the Scriptures, and there are indications that he stayed there even longer than this, for he had time to set himself up in his trade and, above all, to establish and organize a congregation.—Acts 17:1; 1 Thess. 2:9; 1:6, 7.
4 The record at Acts 17:4-7 graphically relates the effect of the apostle’s preaching in Thessalonica. Jealous about the success of Paul’s Christian ministry, the Jews organized a mob and threw the city into an uproar. They assaulted Jason’s house and dragged him and other brothers to the city rulers, crying out: “These men that have overturned the inhabited earth are present here also, and Jason has received them with hospitality. And all these men act in opposition to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king, Jesus.” Jason and the others were compelled to provide bond before they were released. For the sake of the brothers in the congregation, as well as for their own personal safety, Paul and Silas were dispatched by night to Beroea. But the congregation at Thessalonica was now established.
5. How did Paul show his concern for and loving interest in the Thessalonian congregation?
5 Fiery opposition from the Jews pursued Paul to Beroea and threatened to stop his preaching there. He then moved on to Athens, in Greece. Still he longed to know how his brothers in Thessalonica were faring under tribulation. Twice he attempted to return to them, but each time ‘Satan cut across his path.’ (1 Thess. 2:17, 18) Filled with concern for the young congregation and painfully aware of the tribulation they were undergoing, Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to comfort the brothers and make them more firm in the faith. When Timothy returned with his heartwarming report, Paul was overjoyed with the news of their stalwart integrity amid violent persecution. Their record by now had become an example to believers throughout all Macedonia and Achaia. (1:6-8; 3:1-7) Paul was thankful to Jehovah God for their faithful endurance, but he also realized that as they continued to grow to maturity, they would need further guidance and counsel. Therefore, while in Corinth in the company of Timothy and Silvanus, Paul wrote his first letter to the Thessalonians.
CONTENTS OF FIRST THESSALONIANS
6. For what does Paul commend the Thessalonians?
6 Thessalonians an example to other believers (1:1-10). Paul begins his letter to the Thessalonians with warm commendation for their faithful work, loving labor, and endurance in hope. The good news preached among them had not been with speech alone but ‘also with power and strong conviction.’ Imitating the example given them, the Thessalonians had accepted the word “with joy of holy spirit” and had themselves become an example to all the believers in Macedonia, Achaia, and even beyond. They had turned completely from their idols, “to slave for a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from the heavens.”—1:5, 6, 9, 10.
7. What attitude had Paul and his companions displayed while among the Thessalonians, and what had they exhorted them to do?
7 Paul’s loving concern for the Thessalonians (2:1–3:13). After receiving insolent treatment in Philippi, Paul and his companions mustered up boldness to preach to the Thessalonians. This they did not as men pleasers or as flatterers or as seeking glory from men. On the contrary, says Paul, “we became gentle in the midst of you, as when a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, having a tender affection for you, we were well pleased to impart to you, not only the good news of God, but also our own souls, because you became beloved to us.” (2:7, 8) They kept exhorting the Thessalonians, as a father does his children, to go on walking worthily of God, who was calling them to his Kingdom and glory.
8. How have the Thessalonians become an exultation to Paul, and what does he pray on their behalf?
8 Paul commends them for their ready acceptance of the good news for what it is, “the word of God.” They are not alone in being persecuted by their own countrymen, for the first believers in Judea suffered similar persecutions at the hands of the Jews. Anxious about their welfare, Paul, on two occasions, wanted to come to them in person but was thwarted by Satan. To Paul and his coworkers, the Thessalonian brothers are a crown of exultation, their “glory and joy.” (2:13, 20) When he could no longer bear the lack of news concerning them, Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica to make firm their faith and to comfort them. Now Timothy has just returned with the good news of their spiritual prosperity and love, and this has brought comfort and joy to the apostle. Paul gives thanks to God and prays that the Lord may give them increase, that they may abound in love to one another, and that their hearts may be “unblamable in holiness” before God the Father at the presence of the Lord Jesus.—3:13.
9. What does Paul exhort concerning sanctification and love one to another?
9 Serving in sanctification and honor (4:1-12). Paul commends the Thessalonians for walking so as to please God, and he exhorts them to keep on doing it more fully. Each one “should know how to get possession of his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in covetous sexual appetite.” In this, no one should encroach upon his brother’s rights. For God called them, “not with allowance for uncleanness, but in connection with sanctification. So, then, the man that shows disregard is disregarding, not man, but God.” (4:4, 5, 7, 8) Paul commends the Thessalonians because they are showing love one to another, and he exhorts them to keep doing this in fuller measure, making it their aim to live quietly and to mind their own business and to work with their hands. For they must walk decently “as regards people outside.”—4:12.
10. What attitude should the brothers have with regard to those who have fallen asleep in death?
10 The resurrection hope (4:13-18). With regard to those sleeping in death, the brothers must not sorrow as do those who have no hope. If their faith is that Jesus died and rose again, so, too, God through Jesus will raise others who have fallen asleep in death. At the presence of the Lord, he will descend from heaven with a commanding call, “and those who are dead in union with Christ will rise first.” Afterward, those surviving will “be caught away in clouds to meet the Lord in the air,” to be always with the Lord.—4:16, 17.
11. Why should the Thessalonians stay awake, and what should they keep doing?
11 Keeping awake as Jehovah’s day approaches (5:1-28). “Jehovah’s day is coming exactly as a thief in the night.” It is when people are saying “Peace and security!” that sudden destruction will be instantly upon them. Let the Thessalonians, therefore, stay awake as “sons of light and sons of day,” keeping their senses and having “on the breastplate of faith and love and as a helmet the hope of salvation.” (5:2, 3, 5, 8) This is a time for them to keep comforting and building one another up. Let all give “more than extraordinary consideration in love” to those working hard and presiding among them. On the other hand, the disorderly must be admonished, the weak built up, and all must be shown long-suffering. Yes, writes Paul, “always pursue what is good toward one another and to all others.”—5:13, 15.
12. On what vital matters does Paul finally give counsel, and how does he close his letter to the Thessalonians?
12 Finally, Paul counsels on a number of vital matters: ‘Always be rejoicing. Pray incessantly, giving thanks for everything. Maintain the fire of the spirit. Have respect for prophesyings. Make sure of all things and hold fast to what is fine. Abstain from every form of wickedness.’ (5:16-22) Then he prays for the very God of peace to sanctify them completely and that they may remain blameless in spirit, soul, and body at the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. He closes the letter with warm words of encouragement and with solemn instruction that the letter be read to all the brothers.
13. In what were Paul and his companions a noble example, and what effect does the willing expression of love have in the congregation?
13 In this letter Paul demonstrated a spirit of loving concern for his brothers. He and his fellow ministers had set a noble example of tender affection, imparting not only the good news of God but even their own souls in behalf of their beloved brothers in Thessalonica. Let all overseers endeavor to forge such ties of love with their congregations! Such expression of love will incite all to show love for one another, even as Paul said: “Moreover, may the Lord cause you to increase, yes, make you abound, in love to one another and to all, even as we also do to you.” This love expressed willingly among all of God’s people is most upbuilding. It makes hearts “firm, unblamable in holiness before our God and Father at the presence of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.” It sets Christians apart from a corrupt and immoral world so they can walk in holiness and sanctification and thus please God.—3:12, 13; 2:8; 4:1-8.
14. In what way is First Thessalonians an excellent example of tactful, loving counsel?
14 This letter provides an excellent model of tactful, loving counsel in the Christian congregation. Though the Thessalonian brothers were zealous and faithful, there were points of correction to be made. In each case, however, Paul commends the brothers on their good qualities. For example, in warning against moral uncleanness, he first commends them on walking so as to please God and then urges them to do it “more fully,” each one keeping his vessel in sanctification and honor. Then, after commending them on their brotherly love, he exhorts them to continue in this way “in fuller measure,” minding their own business and living decent lives before those on the outside. Tactfully Paul directs his brothers to “pursue what is good toward one another and to all others.”—4:1-7, 9-12; 5:15.
15. What indicates that Paul zealously preached the Kingdom hope while at Thessalonica, and what fine counsel did he give in this connection?
15 On four occasions Paul makes mention of the “presence” of Jesus Christ. Apparently the newly converted Christians at Thessalonica were very much interested in this teaching. While in their city, Paul had no doubt preached boldly concerning God’s Kingdom in the hands of Christ, as is indicated by the accusation brought against him and his companions: “All these men act in opposition to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king, Jesus.” (Acts 17:7; 1 Thess. 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23) The Thessalonian brothers had set their hope on the Kingdom and, having faith toward God, were waiting “for his Son from the heavens, whom he raised up from the dead, namely, Jesus,” to deliver them from the wrath to come. Likewise, all who hope in God’s Kingdom today need to heed the fine counsel of First Thessalonians to abound in love, with hearts firm and unblamable, so that they may ‘go on walking worthily of God who is calling them to his kingdom and glory.’—1 Thess. 1:8, 10; 3:12, 13; 2:12.
a See chart “Outstanding Early Catalogs of the Christian Greek Scriptures,” page 303.
b The Text of the New Testament, by Kurt and Barbara Aland, translated by E. F. Rhodes, 1987, pages 97, 99.