Were they written early or late in the Apostle Paul's Career?
2) (Acts 17,18) According to the more popular view, Paul hadn’t been apart from the Thessalonians very long when he supposedly wrote his first letter to them. (1Thess.) According to 1Thessalonians, Paul seems to have been apart from them for quite awhile. Satan had hindered him twice and finally when he could no longer refrain, he sent Timothy.
3) If Paul wrote 1Thessalonians early while at Corinth, Timothy was quite young when he visited them. However, when we look at 1Thessalonians more closely, Timothy seems to be a veteran, a mature apostle, capable of establishing and consoling others.
4) Paul’s descriptions of his visit at Athens in 1Thess. is beyond the scope of the Acts account.
5) According to Acts 17, Paul only spent three weeks in Thessalonica before he was pressured to leave. In contrast to this, the Thessalonian letters indicate that Paul had spent considerable time with them. This suggests later visits before Paul writes to them.
6) (Acts.17) Paul’s time was spent mostly with the Jews in the synagogue. The Thessalonian letters leads us to believe the majority of the ecclesia were "irreverent" Gentiles.
7) The Thessalonians were a mature group and were models to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia and everywhere. Not only does it take time for a group to become mature, but it would also take time for them to have an impact in other places. Yet, these things had occurred before Paul wrote his first letter to them.
8) 1Cor.15:51 In reference to our expectation, Paul informs us about our change and that not all will be put to repose. He says this was a secret. In 1Thess.4:13-18, Paul, in describing our snatching away, also tells us that not all will be put to repose, yet he dosen't refer to it as a secret. This is suggestive that 1Thessalonians was written after 1Corinthians.
9) The testimony of 1Thess. 2:16.
10) The Thessalonian letters are filled with thoughts centering on the Day of Christ which involves the blessed expectation of our Lord's presence in the air for His body. These are aspects of the evangel that Paul would have meditated on more frequently as he approached the end of his career.
11) The simple fact that someone was writing a letter to the Thessalonians and was forging Paul's name, shows that the letters were written late in his career.
12) Paul's salutation at the end of 2Thessalonians suggests that this was a late letter.
13) The Thessalonian letters mention nothing about the love offering Paul was collecting for the saints in Jerusalem. Yet in his other early letters, it is mentioned. This is suggestive that the Thessalonian letters were written after Paul had given the collection to the Jerusalem saints.
14) Similarities between 2Thess. and 2Tim. which may connect them to close proximity in time, thus making 2Thessalonians a late letter.
15) Evidence supporting that the Thessalonian letters are far closer in character to the prison epistles than to the earlier church epistles.
16) In 1Thess.3:3,4 Paul is referring to his previous afflictions in Jerusalem and Rome, thus showing that this letter could not have been written until the record of Acts closed.
17) The Thessalonian letters, much like Ephesians and Colossians, seem to be summations of truths developed in earlier letters.
18) Internal evidence from Scripture hinting that Paul traveled after the close of Acts, thereby providing the opportunity for him to write to the Thessalonians.
The editors of the NIV Study Bible agree with this theory. They explain the sequence as follows: 1) Paul and Silas fled from Thessalonica to Berea(Ac.17:10). 2) Paul fled to Athens from Berean persecution, leaving Silas and Timothy in Berea (Ac.17:14). 3) Paul sent word back, instructing Silas and Timothy to come to him in Athens (Ac.17:15)
So far, everything has been documented in Scripture. However, in their next step they begin to speculate, and I believe they do so incorrectly.
4) They say “Timothy rejoined Paul at Athens and was sent back to Thessalonica (1Thess.3:1-5).” Meanwhile, Paul moves on to Corinth and Silas and Timothy joins him there (Ac.18:5).
The first problem with this is they are assuming that 1Thess.3:1-5 is referring to Paul’s visit as recorded in Acts 17. Because of this they also assume that Timothy "joined" him at Athens even though scripture is silent on this point. Furthermore, by linking the above passages together, it is suggested that Paul had moved from Athens to Corinth, and that’s where Timothy brought the good news of the Thessalonian's faith to him. If we think about what they are saying, it doesn't make sense. In 1Thess.3:1, Paul says: "When we could no longer refrain, it seems well for us to be left in Athens alone, and we send Timothy." In verse 5 he shares the purpose of sending Timothy -- "to know of your faith." The problem is this: If Timothy just joined Paul in Athens having come from the Thessalonian area, why would Paul feel the need to send him back to know about their faith? 1Thess.3 only makes sense if we see that Paul and Timothy were both in Athens at a later time, and since he hadn't seen the Thessalonians for quite some time, he sends Timothy to see how their faith is holding up.
There is nothing in 1Thess.3 that leads us to believe that Paul moved on to Corinth before he received the evangel from Timothy. It is just as easy to believe that he was still in Athens when his associate returned with the good news of the Thessalonian’s faith. If this was the case, then the two men must have been in Athens on another occasion. People that have considered 1Thessalonians to be an early letter have tried to make these passages fit, but they just don’t line up perfectly. When it comes to scripture, close isn’t good enough. It should be an exact fit.
If what I’m proposing is correct, that Paul’s visit to Athens as described in 1Thess.3 is not referring to Acts 17 and 18, then the next question is, “Where does it belong?” I’d like to suggest that it occurs beyond the scope of Acts. The book of Acts closes with Paul in a house arrest at Rome. I’m going to show support from various scriptures that imply Paul traveled after his initial house arrest in Rome. I believe it was then that he and Timothy were in Athens and since he had been separated from the Thessalonians for such a long time, when he could no longer refrain, he sent Timothy to see how they were faring. And it’s not until Timothy returns that he writes to them for the first time.
Chronologically then, this puts 1Thessalonians after Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. I know this seems like a stretch at this point, but let’s examine the Scriptures with an open mind to see if they support this view.
Acts 17:1 “Now, traversing Amphipolis and Apollonia, they” (at least Paul and Silas and maybe Timothy) “came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Now, as was Paul’s custom, he entered to them, and on three sabbaths he argues with them from the scriptures,...”
17:4 “And some of them are persuaded, and were allotted to Paul and Silas, both a vast multitude of the reverent Greeks, and of the foremost women not a few.”
17:5 “Now the Jews, being jealous and taking to themselves some of the wicked men of the loafers and making up a mob, made a tumult in the city,...”
17:13-15 “Now as the Jews from Thessalonica know that in Berea also the word of God was announced by Paul, they came there also, agitating and disturbing the throngs. Now immediately, then, Paul was sent away by the brethren to go as far as the sea. Besides, both Silas and Timothy remain behind there. Now those who are conducting Paul led him as far as Athens, and, obtaining a direction to Silas and Timothy that they may be coming most quickly to him, they are off.” 18:1 “After these things” (after Paul’s teaching and interacting with the Athenians), “departing from Athens, he” (Paul) “came to Corinth.”
18:4 “Now he argued in the synagogue on every sabbath and persuaded both Jews and Greeks. Now, as both Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the word, certifying to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ.”
18:11 “Now he is seated one year and six months” (in Corinth), “teaching the word of God among them” (mostly Gentiles because of the resistance of the Jews).
Now to complete the background, I’d like to include 1Thess.2:17-3:6 Paul, writing to the Thessalonians says:
“Now we, brethren, being bereaved of you for the period of an hour, in face, not in heart, endeavor the more exceedingly to see your face, with much yearning, because we want to come to you, indeed, I, Paul, once--even twice--and Satan hinders us. For who is our expectation, or joy, or wreath of glorying? Or is it not even you, in front of our Lord Jesus, in His presence? For you are our glory and joy.
Wherefore, when we could by no means longer refrain, it seems well for us to be left in Athens alone, and we send Timothy, our brother and God’s servant in the evangel of Christ, to establish and to console you for the sake of your faith. No one is to be swayed by these afflictions, for you yourselves are aware that we are located for this. For even when we were with you, we predicted to you that “we are about to be afflicted,” according as it came to be also, and you are aware.
Therefore, when I also could by no means longer refrain, I send to know of your faith, lest somehow the trier tries you and our toil may be coming to be for naught. Yet at present, because of Timothy’s coming to us from you, and bringing us the evangel of your faith and your love, and that you have a good remembrance of us always, longing to see us even as we also you,...”
Let's first look at some of the details Luke provides for us in Acts. Notice in 17:14, Silas and Timothy "remain behind" in the region of Macedonia (which included Thessalonica and Berea) as Paul traveled to Athens. Then, in 18:1 we read that Paul traveled from Athens to Corinth. Luke never does record Silas and Timothy meeting the apostle in Athens. It’s not until Paul was teaching in Corinth that the other two finally returned from Macedonia. Luke is accurately recording these details to help us as we follow Paul’s journeys (Lu.1:3). Therefore, from the Acts account we have no reason to believe that Silas and Timothy ever joined Paul in Athens, even though he had given them direction to do so. Instead, it seems that they continued ministering in the region of Thessalonica and Berea until they finally met the apostle in Corinth (18:5).
In contrast to this, 1Thess.3 suggests that Timothy and Paul and at least one other person were together in Athens and it was from there that Paul sends Timothy back to Thessalonica. (Notice that just Timothy was sent, and no one else is mentioned when he returned with the evangel. Yet in the Acts account, both Timothy and Silas join Paul at Corinth.) Also, according to 1Thessalonians there is no indication that Paul left Athens, but could have waited there until Timothy returned. If both passages are read without a previous bias, then it is easier to believe that Luke and Paul were referring to separate events. Only then do the discrepancies disappear. Once we see that Paul was referring to a later Athenian visit than Luke is describing in Acts 18, then we are compelled to postpone the writing of 1Thessalonians for it wasn't until Timothy returned with the good news of their faith that Paul penned his first letter to them.
2) According to the Acts account, Paul's arrival in Athens would have been shortly after his departure from Thessalonica. Luke records that Paul was in Thessalonica for three weeks and then he went to Berea. Now he doesn't record how long Paul stayed there, but most likely it wasn't very long since the Jews that forced him out of Thessalonica also came to Berea with the same agenda. He then traveled to Athens, where those that claim 1Thessalonians was an early letter, say Timothy met up with him and was sent back to Thessalonica to see how they were faring in their absence. They use Paul's reflections in 1Thess.3 to reach this conclusion.
However, if we read 1Thessalonians more closely, it seems like Paul is describing a later occasion when he and Timothy were together in Athens. In 2:17-20, Paul says Satan hindered him twice from coming to them. On two different occasions he wanted to see them, but in some way the Adversary prevented it. This suggests Paul had been apart from the Thessalonians for a long time. Finally, when he couldn't stand it any longer, he sent Timothy. Now when we examine the events of Acts 17, there is nothing that suggests that Paul tried to re-visit them once, let alone twice. Not only this, but according to Luke's account, when Paul went to Athens, Timothy was still in the Thessalonian area. If he did meet Paul in Athens at this time, he would have told Paul about their growing faith.
For these reasons then, I believe theologians are incorrect when they try to fit 1Thess.3 with Acts 17. Paul, in 1Thess.3 is describing a later Athenian visit when he and Timothy were in Athens and both had been apart from his beloved Thessalonian ecclesia for quite some time.
3) In the account of Acts 17, Timothy would have been quite young. We are first introduced to Timothy in Acts 16:1. He was described as “the son of a believing Jewish woman, yet of a Greek father, who was attested by the brethren in Lystra and Iconium.” From that point on, Timothy began being of service to Paul in the ministry. Notice how Paul introduces him to the Corinthians in those early years. He writes: “Therefore I send to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, who will be reminding you of my ways which are in Christ Jesus” (1Cor.4:17). Then he adds: “Now if Timothy should be coming, look to it that he should be with you fearlessly, for he is working at the work of the Lord, as I also. No one, then, should be scorning him. Now send him forward in peace, that he may be coming to me, for I am awaiting him with the brethren” (1Cor.16:10,11). A.E.Knoch, in his commentary says that Timothy “was young for such a mission (1Tim.4:12) and could not command the respect which age inspires” (cc pg 265).
Scholars concur that Paul wrote 1Corinthians near the close of his three-year residency in Ephesus (see 1Cor.16:5-9). It is clear from his reference to staying at Ephesus until Pentecost (16:8) that he intended to remain there somewhat less than a year when he wrote 1Corinthians. In relation to the events in Acts, this Ephesian visit would correspond with Acts 19. Paul, at this time, was on his third missionary journey.
Now, putting some thoughts together, Paul is writing to the Corinthians while at Ephesus on his third missionary journey. He is going to send Timothy to them, but since he is still quite young, Paul, through this letter, prepares their hearts so they will receive him in a gracious and loving manner.
Now if 1Thessalonians was Paul’s first letter, wouldn’t you think that Paul would have also prepared the Thessalonians for Timothy’s arrival? Yet notice how Paul describes Timothy and his mission. “Wherefore, when we could by no means longer refrain, it seems well for us to be left in Athens alone, and we send Timothy, our brother and God’s servant in the evangel of Christ, to establish and to console you for the sake of your faith” (1Th.3:1,2). Timothy at this point is no longer a young timid boy, but a mature apostle used to establish and console others. He has come a long way since his early visit to Corinth as recorded in 1Cor.16:10,11. Instead of others encouraging him, he is now in a position to establish and console others. “Establish” means to solidize or to stand firm. The elements of console are “Beside-call,” which means to comfort or to entreat. Timothy, because of his own growth and maturity, is now able to help others to stand firm and to encourage them in the faith.
In relation to his mission at Thessalonica, Paul refers to Timothy, not as his child, but as his brother and God’s servant in the evangel of Christ. This evangel is described by Paul in Rom.16:25 where he writes: “Now to Him Who is able to establish you in accord with my evangel, and the heralding of Christ Jesus in accord with the revelation of a secret hushed in times eonian, yet manifested now and through prophetic scriptures, according to the injunction of the eonian God being made known to all nations for faith-obedience...” Another way of saying the evangel of Christ (1Th.3:2) is that He is the Christ in accord with the secret which is God’s conciliation. The main aspect of the secret here has to do with God’s purpose for the body of Christ as Israel is cast aside. It has to do with promises that apply specifically to us. Revelation of this secret establishes us and enables us to stand firm.
The Thessalonians were undergoing severe persecution and suffering and from the context of 1Thess.2:17-3:6, it seems like Paul has been away from them for quite awhile. Therefore, when he can no longer refrain, he sends Timothy, his brother and God’s servant in the evangel of the Christ, to help them stand firm and to encourage them for the sake of their faith.
I repeat, Timothy here is no mere lad as he was when he was sent to Corinth. This point alone supports that 1Thessalonians was written quite some time after 1Corinthians for it would take years for someone to mature to this level that Timothy had. Now add to this the fact that Paul doesn’t even write 1Corinthians until he is on his third missionary journey, when does this place the writing of 1Thessalonians? As I’ve said earlier, it makes more sense if we see that Paul doesn’t write this letter until the book of Acts ends. In the case of Timothy, this theory fits very well.
4) As I’ve already demonstrated, certain aspects of Paul’s Athenian visit in Acts 17 do not coincide with the one mentioned in 1Thess.3. If Paul then, is indeed describing a different trip to Athens, could he be referring to his third missionary journey? If we follow carefully Luke’s descriptions of Paul’s journeys, we see that the Acts 17 account was the apostle’s first visit to Athens. Paul, at this time was on his second missionary journey. Luke never does record him specifically going to Athens again, although in Acts 20:2,3 (which would have been his third journey), he does write that Paul came into Greece and spent three months there. Greece would have included the area consisting of Athens and Corinth. From Acts, we really aren’t given any information on which city within Greece he spent most of his time. All we are told is that he spent three months in that area.
However, from other verses, we know that Paul did stop in Corinth. Before his arrival, he had written to the ecclesia there at least twice, and told them that he was going to collect their love offerings for the saints in Jerusalem.
I also believe that he was either in Corinth or close nearby when he wrote to the Roman ecclesia. A three month period was recorded for a reason and would have been sufficient time for Paul to visit the Corinthians and to write a letter to the believers in Rome. (More is said on this in point #13.)
Notice from the Acts 20 account that Paul came into Greece without Timothy (vs.2,3). In fact, he wasn’t to meet up with Timothy until he arrived in the province of Asia (20:4). It seems too, that Luke was traveling with Paul at this time because he wrote that Timothy, Tychicus, Trophimus and others remained for “us” (Paul and himself) in Troas of Asia (20:4-6).
Therefore, the Acts 20 account doesn’t fit with 1Thess.3 any better than Acts 17. From 1Thess. 3 we know that Timothy was with Paul in Athens and that Paul had been separate from the Thessalonians for some time as indicated by the Adversary hindering his return on two different occasions. Neither was the case in Acts 20. Paul was without Timothy and he had just left Macedonia (which would have included Thessalonica) before his arrival in Greece.
According to Acts, this was Paul’s last visit to Athens. From there he headed toward Jerusalem and from Jerusalem he eventually sailed to Rome as a prisoner. The book of Acts then closes with Paul teaching for two years in his own hired house, “heralding the kingdom of God, and teaching that which concerns the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness, unforbidden” (Acts 28:31).
The question remains then, where does Paul’s visit to Athens as described by 1Thess.3 fit in relation to the Acts account? Since it doesn’t match up with any of his visits in Acts, it must have occurred later at some point after Luke closed the book. The only feasible deduction is that Paul was allowed to travel after his two year house arrest in Rome. More will be said about this later, but for now I’d like to include one other supporting passage. Most people agree that 2Timothy was written extremely late in Paul’s career and quite possibly was his last letter. Notice what he wrote in 4:16: “At my first defense no one came along with me, but all forsook me. May it not be reckoned against them! Yet the Lord stood beside me, and He invigorates me, that through me the heralding may be fully discharged, and all the nations should hear; and I am rescued out of the mouth of the lion.” When was Paul’s first defense? Was it not his first house arrest in Rome? I believe it was. Yet the Lord invigorated him and reassured him that the heralding was to be fully discharged and all the nations will hear. So, even after his house arrest, it seemed like Paul was anticipating further work in the evangel. This further work, I believe entailed more traveling and writing. If that indeed was the case, then Paul and Timothy could have re-visited Athens after his two year stay in Rome. This fits well with all previous points and does not have to contradict the details recorded by Luke in Acts.
5) According to Acts.17:2-10, Paul only spent three weeks in Thessalonica before he and Silas slipped out by night into Berea. Remember now, this was the apostle’s first visit at this city and according to many theologians, this would have been his only visit before he wrote to them. However, various parts of Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians indicate that he had been with them for a considerable time and may have actually been with them more than once. For example, let’s consider some statements Paul makes in 1Thess.2:9: “For you remember, brethren, our toil and labor: working night and day so as not to be burdensome to any of you, we herald to you the evangel of God.” Paul was to them, “as a father to his own children, consoling and comforting” them and attesting unto them to be walking worthily of God...(vs.11).
Paul toiled and labored, working night and day so as not to be burdensome to these people. Such language indicates a longer period of time than is recorded in Acts 17.
Paul, in writing to the Philippians says this: “For in Thessalonica also, you send, once and twice, to my need” (Ph.4:14). This seems to suggest that Paul was in Thessalonica longer than three weeks. They didn’t have federal express back then and for the Philippians to send twice for his need, the apostle would have to have been there for a fair amount of time. In addition to this, Paul was also working with his own hands just so he wouldn’t be a burden to the ecclesia.
Therefore, if we see that the Thessalonian letters were written late in Paul’s ministry, then we can understand the statements in 1Thess.2 to be reflections back to not just his visit in Acts 17, but to at least one other visit when he was able to stay longer. For example, from the record of Acts 20;1-3, it would seem that Paul was in Thessalonica at least two other times, yet Luke doesn’t specify how long he tarried. It is more probable that it was on one of these later occasions that Paul would have dispensed more fully his evangel and became more closely associated with these believers. By the way, not only would Paul have heralded the good news of their salvation as members in the body of Christ, but he also would have shared differences concerning their expectation in the “day of Christ” from the events that occur in the “day of the Lord” (2Th.2:5). One of these visits to Thessalonica then, is most likely when the Philippians would have sent help to assist Paul’s needs.
6) From the account in Acts, it seems Paul spent most of his three weeks arguing with the Jews in the synagogue. His primary message was verifying from the scriptures (which I believe included the four accounts) that the Jesus, Whom I am announcing to you -- He is the Christ. Some Jews were persuaded, but more of the reverent Greeks and women.
The Thessalonian letters indicate that the ecclesia there consisted mostly of Gentiles that were involved in idolatry (not in Judaism). In 1Thess.1:9 Paul writes: “and how you turn back to God from idols..” Jews at this time were not idolaters, nor were the reverent Greeks, but most Gentiles would have been. This would be an odd statement for Paul to make if the Thessalonian ecclesia were mostly Jews and Gentiles involved in Judaism. So even though Luke records that a vast multitude of the reverent Greeks believed, it would seem that the ecclesia to whom Paul is writing were formerly idol worshipping Gentiles, or I guess you could say: “irreverent Greeks.” Three weeks didn’t allow much time for Paul to teach both groups, but he could have persuaded many of these Gentiles on subsequent visits.
Because Paul uses the expression: “Turn back to God from idols”, some have thought he referred to Jews who initially were worshipping God, then turned away from Him to worship idols, and now have turned back to God again. In a sense, though, this statement refers to all mankind regardless of their position. God is always first since He gives life and breath and all. So, when we turn away from idols, we turn back to God. The correct order is to change our thinking about God, then we turn away from idols.
7) Paul says to the Thessalonians that you have “become models to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For from you has been sounded forth the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and in Achaia, but in every place your faith toward God has come out, so that we have no need to be speaking of anything, for they are reporting concerning us, what kind of an entrance we have had to you” (1Th.1:7-9).
Such statements testify that the Thessalonians were a mature group, perhaps even the most mature of all the ecclesias that Paul established. For a group to become mature, there has to be a unity of faith and growth in the understanding of God’s word. These things take time. Paul says concerning this subject that we are “admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we should be presenting every man mature in Christ Jesus; for which I am toiling also, struggling in accord with His operation, which is operating in me with power” (Col.1:28,29). Maturity is the outcome of toil and struggle. What joy must have filled Paul’s heart to know that the Thessalonian’s faith was flourishing and the love of each one for one another was increasing. This is why he could boast in them in the ecclesias of God (2Th.1:3,4).
Not only would it take considerable time for a group to grow to such a level, but it would also take time for them to become models to the other ecclesias and believers everywhere, and for these other ecclesias to report back to Paul. These things are more indirect evidence showing the lateness of the two Thessalonian letters.
8) In 1Cor.15:51 Paul writes: “Lo! a secret to you am I telling! We all, indeed, shall not be put to repose, yet we all shall be changed, in an instant, in the twinkle of an eye, at the last trump.” Here Paul is revealing something for the first time, for he calls it a secret. This was not revealed by the Hebrew prophets or other teachers before him. This thread of not being put to repose and being changed to meet our Lord in glory is picked up later in 2Cor.5:1-5; Col.3:1-4; Phil.3:20,21 and then in 1Thess.4:13-18. It’s interesting that even though Paul is referring to the same event in 1Thess.4, he doesn’t call it a secret. Now if 1Thessalonians was written before 1Corinthians, wouldn’t you think Paul would have referred to these things as a secret?
This is evidence that 1Corinthians was written before 1Thessalonians, thus making the Thessalonian letters much later than what many have thought. So, when Paul is mentioning these things in 1Thessalonians, he is reminding them of something that was known before. Whenever Paul says “we do not want you to be ignorant,” he is not revealing brand new truth, but is stressing or highlighting something known before. For example, in Rom.1:13 he tells the Romans that he didn’t want them to be ignorant that often he purposed to come to them. Perhaps some of the Romans knew this, perhaps they didn’t, but in any case, we know from Scripture that Paul wanted to go to Rome long before he finally arrived there (Acts 19:21,22).
Now if he adds that it was a secret, then he is revealing new truth. An example of this is Rom.11:25. Paul writes: “For I am not willing for you to be ignorant of this secret, brethren,...that callousness, in part, on Israel has come, until the complement of the nations may be entering.” Israel was already blinded in Matt.13 which Paul confirms in Acts 28:25,26 but now he is revealing the secret of Israel’s callousness as it relates to God’s purpose of the nations. Israel’s blindness has given way to callousness so that now as a nation, she is insensitive to the spirit. For the time being Israel is cast aside and will be in the position of “Lo ammi” until the body of Christ is glorified. This truth was not known before, thus Paul refers to it as a secret.
Likewise, 1Cor.15:51 is the first time Paul reveals that not all in the body of Christ will be put to repose. Through subsequent letters, the apostle builds on this verse. In 1Cor. Paul says our change will be in an instant and that we will become immortal. Then later in Phil.3:21, he adds that the change will involve the transfiguring of these bodies of humiliation to conform to the body of our Lord’s glory. Then, even later, when Paul writes 1Thessalonians, he provides additional details that enable us to more fully grasp such a glorious event. Each letter is progressive in relation to revealing the glory of this meeting with our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus.
9) In 1Thess.2:14-16 Paul writes: "For you became imitators, brethren, of the ecclesias of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you suffered the same, even you by your own fellow tribesmen, according as they also by the Jews, who kill the Lord Jesus as well as the prophets, and banish us, and are not pleasing to God, and are contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the nations that they may be saved, to fill up their sins always. Yet the indignation outstrips to them to a consummation."
I'd like to focus on the latter part of verse 16. In this section, Paul is comparing the sufferings of the Thessalonians to those of the Judean ecclesias. In relation to the Jews, he further adds how they killed our Lord and the prophets and banished Paul himself. Then he makes this announcement: "Yet the indignation outstrips to them to a consummation."
Paul was mentioning something that had already occurred by the time he wrote this letter. In fact, the indignation that was on the Jews then is still on them today. The immediate question is, what does Paul mean by indignation? The manifestation of God's indignation varies. Sometimes it brings about death, but this is not always the case. For example, in Rom.1:18 we read that "God's indignation is being unveiled from heaven on all the irreverence and injustice of men who are retaining the truth in injustice,..." As we continue reading we learn how His indignation is being unveiled. In verse 24 we see that "God gives them over, in the lusts of their hearts ..." Verse 26 - "God gives them over to dishonorable passions ..." Verse 28 - "God gives them over to a disqualified mind, ..." Therefore, in this context, God's indignation causes mankind in general to be in a position of darkness. Unless God gives us enlightenment, we are no different from the rest that are characterized as "the sons of stubbornness" (Eph.5:6). However, if He does give us faith, then it is just as true that we are in a process of being saved from the "present indignation" (Rom.5:9).
Now back to 1Thess.2:16. The indignation in view here is similar to these previous usages in that the Jews (generally speaking) are being kept in a condition of darkness. In Rom.11:25, Paul refers to it as "callousness." He writes: "For I am not willing for you to be ignorant of this secret, brethren, lest you may be passing for prudent among yourselves, that callousness, in part, on Israel has come, until the complement of the nations may be entering."
For now, God's indignation upon Israel is expressed by calling them "Lo ammi." At present, the Jews are in a cast away condition and will not be His people again until they re-enter the land promised to them by the Hebrew prophets (Ez.20), and this cannot happen until the complement of the nations may be entering. In other words, the body of Christ has to be glorified first, then the callousness of Israel will be removed.
Now the point of all these things is this. If Paul, by his statement in 1Thess.2:16 is referring back to this secret that he unfolded in Rom.11:25, then this is further evidence that the Thessalonian letters were written later. As I mentioned before, in Romans Israel's callousness was a secret. Therefore, the letter to the Romans records this truth for the first time, and then some time later, the first letter to the Thessalonians confirms it.
10) Throughout the two Thessalonian letters, Paul spends a great deal of time directing our thoughts to our future deliverance when the Lord returns for us. It seems to permeate the letters so much that many consider it to be the theme. This is very fitting especially when you consider these letters to be written late in Paul’s ministry. The day of Christ, being together with Him in His presence, and all the blessings that will be fully realized in that day, are aspects of the evangel that each of us focus on more and more. The apostle Paul was no different. In every chapter of 1Thessalonians he was reminding the saints of that blessed day when we shall meet our Savior (1:10; 2:19,20; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:9-11; 23).
Now to be fair, if this was on Paul’s mind in the Thessalonian letters (which I believe were written late), then this should also be the case in his other late letters.
Let’s first look at 2Timothy which everyone considers to be one of his last letters. There he writes: “For I am already a libation, and the period of my dissolution is imminent. I have contended the ideal contest. I have finished my career, I have kept the faith. Furthermore, there is reserved for me the wreath of righteousness, which the Lord, the just judge, will be paying to me in that day; yet not to me only, but also to all who love His shining forth” (2Tim.4:6-8). Later in the same chapter (vs.18) he adds: “The Lord will be rescuing me from every wicked work and will be saving me for His celestial kingdom: to Whom be glory for the eons of the eons. Amen!” At this point in his life, Paul is facing death and he is doing so with an exultant cry of triumph. His contest is over, his career is ended, the faith is kept, and now the meeting of his Lord and His celestial kingdom fills his heart and his horizon. Realizing “the imminence of his dissolution, he passes on that blessed expectation” (ccpg 326).
Nearly all scholars agree that Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians were written by Paul late in his career when he was a prisoner in Rome. Again, the apostle’s thoughts are centered on that day when we shall meet our Lord. He writes: “If, then, you were roused together with Christ, be seeking that which is above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Be disposed to that which is above, not to that on the earth, for you died, and your life is hid together with Christ in God. Whenever Christ, our life, should be manifested, then you also shall be manifested together with Him in glory” (Col.3:1-4). We are to be in an upward remaining position until we are manifested with Christ. Our disposition is that of the heavens where Christ is seated. From the moment the eyes of our hearts are enlightened, and we are given faith, these things should be our focus.
In Philippians, Paul mentions the day of Christ three times in the first two chapters (1:6, 10; 2:16) and in 1:23, he says he was yearning to be together with Christ for it was much better than either living in the flesh or dying. Even though he knew living in the flesh was necessary because of the saints, his heart longed for the snatching away when we will be changed and will be together with the Lord always. Later in the same letter Paul writes: “For our realm is inherent in the heavens, out of which we are awaiting a Savior also, the Lord, Jesus Christ, Who will transfigure the body of our humiliation, to conform it to the body of His glory,...” (3:20).
In Ephesians, our future position with Christ which we shall enjoy fully when He comes for us, is so much on the apostle’s mind, that He writes as though we are there now. He starts by praising God for blessing us with every spiritual blessing among the celestials, in Christ (vs.3). Later he says: “yet God, being rich in mercy, because of His vast love with which He loves us, vivifies us together among the celestials in Christ Jesus,..” (2:4-6).
These passages should suffice to show that throughout his career, Paul looked forward to the snatching away and to our expectation as a whole. Therefore, when scholars say that the Thessalonian letters were written earlier based on the fact that Paul spoke so much on our Lord's return, it doesn’t hold any weight. It makes just as much sense to believe that as Paul was nearing his dissolution, he began writing and focusing on these things even more.
11) Someone wrote a letter to the Thessalonians and forged Paul’s signature (2Th.2:1-3). Since it was causing them to be alarmed and quickly shaken from their mind, this counterfeit letter must have been contrary to what Paul had taught earlier. The letter stated that they were already in the day of the Lord. If this was true, then the sequence of events that Paul shared earlier with them was wrong. From their reaction, we know they expected to be glorified before the “day of the Lord” ever arrived (2Th.1:7; 1Th.5:1-11; Rom.11:25). Paul had shared all of these things with them in his previous visits (2Th.2:5).
In 2Timothy, Paul described a similar situation that may have even related back to the Thessalonians. He told Timothy: “From profane prattlings stand aloof, for they will be progressing to more irreverence, and their word will spread as gangrene, of whom are Hymeneus and Philetus, who swerve as to truth, saying that the resurrection has already occurred, and are subverting the faith of some” (2Tim.2:16-18).
These men were saying the resurrection already occurred. In this, they swerved from the truth and were subverting the faith of some. If we believed the resurrection had come and gone and we were supposed to accompany those resurrected, then that would alarm us, and cause some to be subverted from the faith.
Likewise, the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to Him are truths that keep us firmly planted in the realization that we won’t be here when the day of the Lord arrives. The more we meditate upon Paul’s inspired words on these things, the less we will be swayed by false teachers.
Back to 2Thessalonians then. Someone was attempting to delude these believers through a letter forged with Paul’s name. This is suggestive that 2Thessalonians was written quite late by the apostle. If it was only his second letter overall, then it would have been hard to copy and to put his name to it. However, by this time in his career, Paul is well known and his writings have been around long enough that the opportunity for someone to forge his name is more probable. It’s like someone who is a great artist. After he has been popular for many years, others may try to copy his style, either because they’ve been influenced by the artist and they want to improve, or they just want to make a quick profit. Such was the case with Paul. It is more probable that his writings were well known and in existence for a considerable time for others to know how to copy him.
Notice Paul describes this deceptive letter as “an epistle as through us” (2:2). There were other letters in circulation by a variety of teachers, but only Paul’s epistles provided information about the day of Christ, the body of Christ, and our assembling to Him. The Thessalonians wouldn’t have been influenced as much if they read one of Peter’s letters. They would have known that Peter was the apostle and herald and teacher to the Jews as Paul was to the Nations (Gal.2:7-9; 1Tim.2:7; 2Tim.1:11). Therefore, in order to delude the Thessalonians, the counterfeiters had to attach Paul’s name.
This is how the Adversary works. He twists the scriptures. This was his method to delude Eve in the garden and is still a method of his today. He uses false apostles and fraudulent workers that seem to be apostles of Christ. Even Satan himself is often transfigured into a messenger of light (1Tim.2:14; 2Cor.11:13,14). This is why we need to endeavor to distinguish things that differ.
We must remember too, that the Thessalonians were not babes in Christ, but were mature believers. They were aware of the teachings of Paul and were models to all believers. Their faith was flourishing and as far as brotherly fondness, Paul said he didn’t even need to be writing to them. This teaches us that the same danger of swerving from the faith is every bit as possible today as it was back then. We continually need to be good Bereans, to study the word of God for ourselves and to ask God for a spirit of wisdom and unveiling in the realization of Him (Eph.1:17).
"The Counterfeit Letter" -- Similar to the "scoffers."
Peter, in his second letter to the dispersion, writes that in the last days scoffers will be coming with scoffing, going according to their own desires and saying, "Where is the promise of His presence?" Jude also in verse 18 writes: "In the last time will be coming scoffers, going according to their own irreverent desires. These are those who isolate themselves, soulish, not having the spirit." Likewise, Paul in 2Tim.3:1 writes: "Now this know, that in the last days, perilous periods (or eras) will be present, for men will be selfish, fond of money, ostentatious, proud, calumniators, ... having a form of devoutness, yet denying its power." In verse eight he says these are withstanding the truth and are men of a depraved mind, disqualified as to the faith.
It seems that as Israel approaches the end of "the last days" of the pre-millennial kingdom known as the "Kingdom of the heavens", the apostasy will be such that scoffers will be scoffing toward the truth of our Lord's presence. The same is true as we approach the "last days" of this administration of grace that was given to Paul. More and more, men will have a depraved mind, disqualified as to the faith.
The counterfeit letter that was deluding the Thessalonians is a sample of the deception that is occurring in our own era. Such stratagems are used in an attempt to remove some from the expectation of meeting our Lord in the air, just as the scoffers in the far distant "last days" mentioned by Peter will cause some to be removed from their expectation of the Lord's glorious return to rule upon David's throne.
Therefore, during the latter part of each administration (the last days for us leading to the snatching away, and the future last days of Israel), there will be deceptive teachings which will cause some believers to sway from their expectation. Paul warns of this in another place when he writes: "Now the spirit is saying explicitly, that in subsequent eras some will be withdrawing from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and the teachings of demons, in the hypocrisy of false expressions, ..." (1Tim.4:1).
Now since we are aware of this, there is even more of a need for us to be continually reminded of our expectation. With every new generation this becomes more important and applicable, for the deception also becomes greater. Paul knew this when he penned the Thessalonian letters. As we approach "the snatching away" these two letters become more important for they are constant reminders of our glorious expectation that we have in Christ Jesus our Lord.
12) The way in which Paul closes the second letter to the Thessalonians suggests that it was written later in his career. He says: “The salutation is by my hand -- Paul’s --which is a sign in every epistle: thus am I writing” (3:17). This is a strange saying if he has only written two letters, but if he has written several by this time, then this statement makes perfect sense. 1Cor.16:21 and Col.4:14 are previous examples where Paul ends a letter by saying “the salutation is by my hand.” And in Gal.6:11 he says: “I write to you with my own hand.” Even though Paul may have had someone else write as he dictated, he always wrote his signature on all the letters.
Notice in 2Thessalonians he did not say “My salutation is on every letter that I’m going to write.” Paul uses the present tense “Thus am I writing.” It’s like he is saying: “Look, here is the key. Every epistle that I'm writing has this salutation by my hand.” He was stating a fact, and was here showing proof as he concluded 2Thessalonians.
13) Sometimes the chronological placement of a letter can be indicated not so much by what’s written, but by what isn’t written. Such is the case with the Thessalonian letters in regards to the love offering that Paul was collecting from various ecclesias for the saints in Jerusalem.
Even though Paul’s apostleship was primarily directed toward the Gentiles (Gal.2:7-9; 2Tim.1:11), he never ceased loving and caring for his Jewish brethren. As a token of this love, he endeavored to help the poor of those Jewish ecclesias by collecting a love offering from various ecclesias he had established (Gal.2:10). Throughout his early letters, Paul makes mention of such a collection.
For example, in 1Cor.16:1 he says: “Now, concerning the collection for the saints, even as I prescribe to the ecclesias of Galatia, thus do you also.” Then in verse three he adds that their grace will be carried to Jerusalem.
Most theologians agree that 1Corinthians was written while Paul was in Ephesus on his third missionary journey. He’s asking them ahead of time to put a collection together for the Jerusalem saints so that it will be ready by the time he arrives there. In relation to Acts, then, the writing of 1Corinthians would take place in chapter nineteen.
2Corinthians was probably written around a year later when Paul was in Macedonia (2Cor.2:12-14; 7:2-5; 8:1), still on his way to Corinth. Notice Paul continues to remind them about the collection (2Cor.8:1-12). This would place the writing of 2Corinthians in Acts 20:1,2. Paul is still on his third missionary journey.
Based on the following scriptures, the letter to the Romans seems to have been completed by Paul just after he visited Corinth and is either still in the city or is in that vicinity. In Rom.15:25 the apostle writes: “yet now I am going to Jerusalem, dispensing to the saints. For it delights Macedonia and Achaia to ma ke some contribution for the poor of the saints who are in Jerusalem.”
In 16:23, Paul mentions that Gaius is his host and that Erastus, the administrator of the city sends his greetings. A mention of Gaius ties Paul to Corinth for in another passage he is referred to as one of the Corinthians (1Cor.1:14). Combine this with the fact that he is Paul’s host as he writes to the Romans, Paul is most likely in or near Corinth.
Furthermore, in Rom.16:23 Paul mentions Erastus is "the administrator of the city." If we can determine the city, then we can know where Paul is at when he concludes this letter to the Romans. 2Tim.4:20 gives us the answer. As the apostle concludes his personal letter to Timothy he states that “Erastus remains in Corinth.”
Therefore, based on the support of these passages, Romans was completed in or near Corinth after he had received the collection from the various ecclesias in Macedonia and Achaia and is on his way to deliver it to the Jerusalem saints. This places Paul further along in his third missionary journey which would pinpoint the completion of Romans at Acts 20:3. (Note: It has been said that Paul wrote most of the letter of Romans earlier and after some time added another section before actually sending it to them. If this is true, then Romans for the most part, could have been the first letter written by Paul even though it may not have been the first to be delivered.)
Now in stepping back from these details, I’d like to make two conclusions. All of these letters are similar in that Paul makes reference to the collection for the saints in Jerusalem and they were written before he arrived there (Acts 21:15).
This seems to be a pattern for the letters written to ecclesias before the apostle’s entrance in Jerusalem but not the pattern for those written after he was in Jerusalem. I say this because everyone agrees that Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians were written after Paul was taken from Jerusalem to Rome. He was in house arrest at Rome when he penned those three letters and yet there is not one reference to a further collection for the saints. This then would take us to the very end of Acts for it concludes with Paul teaching for two years within his own hired house (28:30,31).
Then when we consider the two letters written to the Thessalonians, it's interesting that nothing is said of a collection in either letter. As I mentioned before, sometimes we can learn not so much by what is written, but by what is not written. If the Thessalonian letters were written early in Paul’s ministry, wouldn’t you think he would have mentioned something about the collection, as he did in his other letters prior to his last visit to Jerusalem? Yet since he is indeed silent on this matter, this is further evidence that the two Thessalonian letters were written quite late in his career, beyond even the close of the book of Acts.
14) In between the time Paul wrote the two Thessalonian letters, someone was attempting to delude them through an epistle as through him (2Th.2:2,3). Someone was teaching the ecclesia that “the day of the Lord” was present. This teaching was causing alarm for if the day of the Lord indeed arrived, then Paul was wrong in what he told them earlier about their assembling to the Lord Jesus Christ (1Th.4:13-17). In 2Th.2:1, Paul begins by saying: “For the sake of the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to Him, that you be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be alarmed,...” “For the sake of” relates back to 1Thess.4:13-18. In those verses Paul wrote in detail concerning the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to Him. Therefore, in 2Thessalonians chapter two, as he begins to correct their thinking, he wants to first reaffirm the teaching concerning their own expectation. Then he proceeds to explain events that must occur before the day of the Lord can take place. By addressing these matters in this respect, their faith would be adjusted and strengthened. The understanding of Paul's words would bring consolation concerning their good expectation in grace and would help establish them in their divine service (2Thess.2:16,17).
Saying that the day of the Lord is present is another way of saying that the resurrection has already occurred. This was the type of delusion that was occurring as Paul wrote his 2nd letter to Timothy. He writes “Yet from profane prattlings stand aloof, for they will be progressing to more irreverence, and their word will spread as gangrene, of whom are Hymeneus and Philetus, who swerve as to truth, saying that the resurrection has already occurred, and are subverting the faith of some” (2Tim.2:16-18). The result is the same, whether you teach “the day of the Lord is present,” or that “the resurrection has already occurred.” In both cases if saints begin to believe such error, then their faith will be shaken and subverted.
Hymeneus and Philetus were acting in a similar way as the ones writing the counterfeit letter to the Thessalonians, only there, Paul doesn’t provide names. Surely in and of itself, this point doesn’t fix the chronological placement of 2Thessalonians but the fact that Paul mentions a similar deception in 2Timothy, it is possible that the two letters were written in close proximity as to time.
15) The late R.B. Withers in his article titled: "The Dating of Paul's Epistles" mentions yet another point which suggests that 1Thessalonians was written quite late in Paul's career. He focused on "the number of occurrences of such words as Jew, Israel, Israelite, Abraham, Moses, circumcise and circumcision, covenant, baptize and baptism, in the various groups of epistles. The result of further study is very illuminating, for it shows that the total number of occurrences of these words from Romans to Galatians inclusive is one hundred and twenty-one, in the Prison Epistles it is fifteen, and in 1 and 11Thessalonians together, one only. This shows the Thessalonian Epistles to be far closer in character to the Prison Epistles than to the other Church Epistles: and thus strongly supports the notion that they were written after, perhaps quite a long time after, the other Church Epistles. That is, indeed, no more than one might expect. The problems connected with Jewish matters were naturally the first to confront Paul, so it is only to be expected that they loom largest in his earlier epistles. By the time he came to write to the Thessalonians they had already been settled, and in the Prison Epistles they were no more than background ideas."
16) In 1Th.3:3 Paul says: “No one is to be swayed by these afflictions, for you yourselves are aware that we are located for this. For even when we were with you, we predicted to you that “we are about to be afflicted,” according as it came to be also, and you are aware.”
What affliction is Paul referring to when he says “we are about to be afflicted” and when was it that he was with the Thessalonians that he predicted as much? Notice too, this affliction has already occurred and the Thessalonians were aware of it. According to the account in Acts, Paul went through Thessalonica on his third journey heading for Jerusalem (Acts 20:1-3). The question is, did Paul know then, that he was about to undergo affliction and could that have been when he predicted as much to the Thessalonians. I believe the answer to both questions is yes. Further on in the Acts account, Luke in describing Paul’s journey to Jerusalem, records him saying: “And now, Lo! I, bound in spirit, am going to Jerusalem, not being aware what I will meet with in it, more than that the holy spirit, city by city, certifies to me, saying that bonds and afflictions are remaining for me" (Acts 20:22,23). Paul says “city by city” the holy spirit was certifying to him that bonds and afflictions are remaining for him. Not long before this, Paul was in Macedonia which includes the area of Thessalonica and Philippi. Later, in the same journey, the prophet Agabus proclaims to others what Paul had already known, namely that the Jews in Jerusalem will bind him and shall be giving him over into the hands of the nations (21:11,12). Paul responds by saying that “I hold myself in readiness, not only to be bound, but to die also in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (21:13). I don’t know if this next verse is connected, but in all of these verses, the spirit is mentioned which makes me think of Acts 19:21 when Paul pondered in spirit, passing through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying that “After my coming to be there I must see Rome also.”
In any case, based on the information recorded in Acts chapters 20 and 21, Paul knew when he was in Thessalonica that he was about to be suffering affliction and it makes perfect sense that this is what he was referring to when he wrote 1Thess.3:3,4. This would indicate then, that 1Thessalonians had to have been written after Paul suffered the afflictions in Jerusalem and had since traveled to Athens from where he sent Timothy (1Thess.3:3-6). Yet all we know from Acts is that Paul sailed to Rome as a prisoner from Jerusalem and remained there for two years teaching the word of God. However, if the previous deductions from the Scriptures are true, then Paul had to have traveled to Athens at some point after his initial two years at Rome, which places this Athenian visit beyond the scope of Acts.
In Phil.1:17 Paul makes an interesting statement that I feel is related to the point under consideration. Remember, when Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians he was a prisoner in Rome. He says that he is located for the defense of the evangel, yet there are some that are announcing Christ out of faction, not purely, surmising to rouse affliction in my bonds. This defense of the evangel that is associated with bonds began when he was in Jerusalem. Remember also that Paul was away from the Thessalonians for a considerable time before he wrote his first letter to them. This was indicated by his words in 1Thess.2:17-3:6. If Paul was in Rome for two years teaching from his own hired house, surely in that time, word would have traveled to the Thessalonians concerning, not only his afflictions in Jerusalem, but also those in Rome as well. In all of this, he was hindered by Satan from being with them.
I can only try to imagine the joy that Paul must have felt when Timothy brought the evangel of their faith and their love, and that they were having a good remembrance of him always, longing to see him even as Paul also them (1Th.3:6,7). How much more meaningful this is when we realize just how long Paul had been away from them and the afflictions that he had endured in the meantime. This is why he was concerned about the Thessalonians. How have they fared after all this time, especially when he knew the trier would have been trying to dismantle his toil and labor from previous visits.
All of this makes much more sense once we break through the traditional views, and see that the Thessalonian letters are mature letters written very late in the apostle Paul’s career.
17) In the book of Romans, Paul goes to great lengths to develop certain doctrinal points such as justification and conciliation. This is one of the reasons I feel a young believer should first read Romans. It is a great book to establish us in the evangel of our salvation that was entrusted to the apostle Paul to dispense. In fact, he closes with this thought when he writes: “Now to Him Who is able to establish you in accord with my evangel, and the heralding of Christ Jesus in accord with the unveiling of a secret hushed in times eonian,..” (Rom.16:25).
A grasp of Romans will help us better comprehend the contents of Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. I have heard many teachers through the years say that Romans is one of the “preparatory” letters for the prison epistles. Just to mention a few examples, to understand Eph.1:7, we have to have a grasp of the first five chapters of Romans. Such is the case as well with Eph.2:1,2 and Phil.3:9,10. In these two passages Paul reflects back to his thoughts in the sixth chapter of Romans. It’s as though Paul, in his later letters has already taken some of these doctrines for granted, thus enabling him to cover a lot more ground with fewer words.
In light of these thoughts, I’d now like for us to consider the two Thessalonian letters. Many have included these to be among the “preparatory” letters, especially since they thought Paul wrote them early in his career. However, if we perceive these as being written very late, we will find numerous passages where Paul is either reflecting upon or summarizing thoughts from previous letters. The following are a few examples.
17a) In 1Cor.15:51 Paul makes known the secret that we all shall not be put to repose, yet we all shall be changed in an instant. This is the first time that believers in the body of Christ realized that: 1) Not all of us are going to die, and 2) that we all shall be changed in an instant. At this point in Paul’s ministry, these Corinthian believers were not in a position to sorrow as the Thessalonians were later. Let me explain. Beginning in 1Thess.4:13, Paul is giving them comfort especially concerning their loved ones who had been put to repose. By the time Paul writes 1Thessalonians, years had passed since he penned 1Corinthians. During those years, fellow believers and loved ones of the body of Christ would have died. Since Paul never gave many details in his early letters concerning the reposing saints’ resurrection in relation to the surviving, the information provided in 1Thessalonians, especially that of chapter four, would have brought them consolation.
In association with this point, I’d like to include some thoughts from a former teacher, R.B. Withers. He believed that Phil.3:17-21; Col.1:5; and 3:1-7 led to 1Thess.1:9,10, namely the “up remaining.” These he said “are like a series of steps leading up to a commanding eminence, namely, 1Thess.4:13-17 which crowns the whole series. Appropriately 1Thessalonians comes immediately after Colossians, for it is so closely related to Col.3:1-7 as to be in a measure a commentary on it; and we can now see 1Thess.1:10 as a summing up of those seven verses. The Thessalonians had turned back from their idolatry, from the demons who once had dominated them, to be firmly fixed on that which is above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Everything they possessed was out of the heavens, and they themselves were remaining in that upward attitude in their whole relation to God’s Son.
This upward attitude of the Thessalonian saints explains how it was that Paul could and did give to them the crowning revelation of 1Thess.4:13-17. Not till the matters disclosed in Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians had been mastered, could the Lord Jesus explain to anyone the full, glorious truth up to which the previous revelations led. If we go through the passages listed above, we will see gleams of light as it were through gaps in an overcast sky; but here the pall is swept away and the undimmed glory shines out.”
“Now we can see how it came about that this ecclesia turned out to be the most nearly perfect of all, and how splendid was their achievement, and even more splendid the word which Paul was able to disclose to them. There was nothing earthly, nothing fleshly, in their disposition towards God’s Son; but an out-of-the-heavens, firm and steady attitude which will in due time be crowned by being ever with the Lord” (R.B.W.).
17B) In 2Thess.1:11 Paul is praying that God would be counting these Thessalonians “worthy of the calling, and should be fulfilling every delight of goodness and work of faith in power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in them,..” In these two verses, Paul is referring to a shortened version of what he already expounded at length in Eph.4:1-5 and Col.3:12-17. This makes sense if 2Thessalonians was written after Ephesians and Colossians. To understand the calling that God is causing us to be worthy of, we have to be acquainted with Paul’s explanation of it in previous letters.
17c) My last example is the entire first chapter of 2Thessalonians. In all my years as a believer, I cannot recall a single message based on it. The main reason for this is probably because it’s been such a difficult chapter to understand. In order to do it justice, one has to not only be acquainted with Paul’s previous teachings concerning the body of Christ, but must also have some grasp of the Circumcision expectation as described throughout the Hebrew and Greek scriptures. In other words, “a rightly dividing” of Scripture is a prerequisite to an understanding of 2Thessalonians chapter one. It definitely is not a chapter that a new believer feeding on milk would be able to grasp easily. In saying this, I certainly do not claim to be the authority. However, I have benefited from Pastor Farwell’s teaching on the “last days” and Israel’s pre-millennial kingdom. A better grasp of these operations of God has enabled me to have more insight into this chapter. Even though much of the language seems harsh, it is still part of the process that will lead to the reconciliation of all and will bring glory to God. (Note: The same is true for chapter 2 as well.)
18) Luke closes the book of Acts with Paul in Rome teaching the word of God from his own hired house for two whole years. Some theologians believe, as I did for years, that this was the end of his career. Recently however, I have come to believe that Paul not only traveled after those two years in Rome, but that he was still actively involved in his ministry. As I have suggested earlier, he didn't even write the first letter to the Thessalonians until after the close of Acts when he and Timothy were together in Athens. The following then, is a list of passages which support the view that Paul did indeed travel after his first Roman imprisonment, thus providing the opportunity for him to write the two letters to the Thessalonians.
18a) Phil.1:24-26; 2:23,24 -- Theologians generally agree that Paul is writing to the Philippians during his two year imprisonment in Rome as described by Luke in Acts 28:30,31. Yet he says: “To be staying in the flesh is more necessary because of you. And, having this confidence, I am aware that I shall be remaining and shall be abiding with you all for your progress and joy of faith, that your glorying may be super abounding in Christ Jesus in me through my presence with you again.” Then in chapter two he says: “I have confidence in the Lord that I myself shall also be coming quickly.”
I know scripture doesn’t actually say Paul went back to Philippi, yet this scripture does say he was confident and he was aware that he would visit them again. These are not merely words expressing a wish or a hope. The Greek word for “aware” here is “aphido” which means "from-perceive." Paul, while he was a prisoner in Rome, had the understanding that he was going to see these Philippians again. The Greek word for “confidence” here is “peitho” which means “persuade.” This does not seem to be the word Paul would use if he still had doubt in his mind. He had confidence, that “He Who undertakes a good work among you, will be performing it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil.1:6). “But we have the rescript of Death in ourselves, that we may be having no confidence in ourselves, but in God” (2Cor.1:9). “I have confidence in you in the Lord that in nothing you will be disposed otherwise” (Gal.5:10). “Now we have confidence in you in the Lord that what we are charging, you are doing also and will be doing” (2Thess.3:4).
Therefore, from this passage, it seems likely that Paul was soon to embark on yet another journey on which he would visit the Philippians.
18b) Rom.15:24,28 -- While on his third journey heading to Jerusalem, Paul writes to the Romans saying that he was expecting to see them and afterwards to be sent forward to Spain. Paul is not simply “hoping” as if it’s a mere desire which he has no real reason to believe. In using the word “expecting,” Paul had a certainty about not only being in Rome, but also Spain.
18c) Philemon 22 -- This personal letter was either written while Paul was a prisoner in Rome at about the same time he wrote Ephesians and Colossians, or sometime shortly afterwards when he began traveling again. “From the fact that Onesimus is spoken of as “one of you” (Col.4:9), we may infer that Philemon belonged to the ecclesia at Colosse” (ccpg.331). So, based on Phn.22, Paul was also expecting to lodge for some time at Philemon’s home in Colosse.
18d) Titus 3:12 -- Paul is asking Titus to join him in Nicopolis, for there he has decided to winter. Luke never records Paul traveling to this city in the book of Acts. Nicopolis was located on the western shore of Greece. Paul’s words here indicate that he “had not arrived there when he wrote and that he was still free to travel at will, not yet having been imprisoned in Rome for the second time” (NIV, note-Titus3:12).
This verse doesn’t prove that the Thessalonian letters were written late, but it does show further evidence that Paul traveled after his first imprisonment in Rome and that he was still in the process of perfecting his career and the dispensation which he received from the Lord (Acts 20:24). By association then, it is very likely that while Paul was traveling, he also made a stop at Athens where he sent Timothy to Thessalonica (1Th.3). Remember, Paul doesn’t write 1Thessalonians until Timothy returns.
This verse also suggests that the letter to Titus was written sometime after Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians yet before 2Timothy. This letter then, along with the two Thessalonian letters were written quite late in Paul’s career.
Paul also gives us some interesting information in 1:5. He says he left Titus in Crete that he should amend what is lacking and constitute elders city by city. It’s also worth noting that Luke never records Paul and Titus in Crete. In fact, as far as Acts is concerned, the only time Paul was in Crete, he was a prisoner on his way to Rome. However, if the previous reasoning is true, then following Paul’s release from his first Roman imprisonment, he and Titus worked together in Crete, after which he commissioned Titus to remain there as his representative and complete some needed work. Paul moved ahead, eventually making it to Nicopolis where Titus was to join him as soon as a replacement arrived (3:12).
I also see a correlation in the work of Titus at Crete with what is written in 2Thess.2:1-3 and 2Tim.2:16-18. This makes sense especially if all three letters were written at about the same time. Concerning our happy expectation (Titus 2:13) and it’s effects on our walk, Paul tells Titus to entreat and expose with every injunction and to not be slighted by anyone. This seems to have been a special concern of Paul’s at this time, for some were doing this very same thing in Thessalonica, and in 2Timothy he mentions two by name.
18e) 2Tim.4:13 -- By the time Paul writes his second letter to Timothy, he has returned to Rome and is in bonds. This imprisonment seems to be different from the first (Acts 28), for now his friends have more difficulty in finding out where he was being kept (1:17). At this point, Paul realizes that his work was done and his life was nearly at an end (4:6-8). This is the setting then, when he asks Timothy to bring the traveling cloak which he left in Troas with Carpus, and the scrolls, especially the vellums (2Tim.4:13).
The last time Luke records Paul being in Troas was in Acts chapter twenty which would have been his third missionary journey. Luke mentions several other people, but there is no mention of Carpus.
Paul’s statement in 2Tim.4:13 also makes more sense if he had just recently left his traveling cloak and scrolls behind as opposed to a visit years ago.
18f) 2Tim.4:20 -- “Trophimus, being infirm, I left in Miletus.” Luke records Paul being in Miletus on his third journey heading for Jerusalem. Yet he makes no reference to Paul leaving Trophimus behind. On the contrary, later when Paul was in Jerusalem, he was accused of taking the Ephesian into the sanctuary (Acts 21:29).
Once again this statement of Paul’s makes perfect sense if the two men had been traveling after the close of Acts. It was then, while they were passing through Miletus that Trophimus became sick and was left behind.
18g) When Paul is a prisoner in Rome, he writes to the Colossians and sends the greetings of Luke and Demas. At this point it doesn’t seem that Demas has forsaken Paul. But by the time Paul writes his second letter to Timothy, he had (2Tim.4:9). This information further supports that there was a considerable period of time between the two letters and that Paul did some traveling after his first imprisonment.
NOTE: The following is a map from the NIV Study Bible suggesting a possible route that Paul could have taken on his “4th missionary journey.” On the map, you will notice an arrow going from Crete to Athens. This is an addition of mine. The editors of the NIV believe that both letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon were written after Paul’s first Roman imprisonment. I think this is true with the possible exception of 1Timothy, but I go one step further by adding the Thessalonian letters to the list. At some point on this journey, Paul had to have stopped at Athens to coincide with what he says in 1Thess.3. In reviewing the map, it’s a “possibility” that it could have been immediately after he left Crete.
Please note as well: The order of Paul’s travel cannot be determined with certainty. The route he would have taken is speculative but the places listed on the map are suggested by internal Scriptural evidence.
Click Here for Map
When we are told that the Thessalonian letters are a preparatory teaching for deeper and more mature truths set forth in later letters, we have a tendency to read them exactly that way. We will not see these as the deep truths and mature writings of Paul that they really are. Our mindset will cause us to miss the richness of each word and phrase that the apostle penned in these two letters.
This then, was the motivation behind this work. For most of my years as a believer, I have not appreciated these letters on the same plane as Paul’s prison epistles. The Thessalonian letters though, are indeed teaching us the deep things of God and are most definitely mature letters.
The evidence suggesting that the Thessalonian letters were written early is weak at best. The internal scriptural support of this claim doesn’t ring true. In order to say Paul penned 1Thessalonians while he was at Corinth soon after he left Berea and Athens is like trying to fit a round peg in a square hole. This should never be the case with Scripture. On the other hand, there are numerous suggestions from a variety of scriptures which support that both letters were written very late in Paul’s career.
The late R.B.Withers used a quote from Dr. Bullinger that I’d like to use in closing. He writes: “As Dr. Bullinger originally pointed out, there are no Church Epistles beyond those two to Thessalonica because there is no higher truth to be taught. There is nothing further for churches as such. What further things Paul had to say were to individual believers, to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. His final message to churches was an appeal for discipline and prayer for peace and grace. It reads like a close of a treatise, and that is precisely what it is. To attempt to lead from it to Romans or 1Corinthians, as if in a sequence, involves an absurdity.”
“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God, our Father, Who loves us, and is giving us an eonian consolation and a good expectation in grace, be consoling your hearts and establish you in every good work and word” (2Thess.2:16,17). And "may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace continually by every means. The Lord be with you all! Amen!" (2Th.3:16).
(Finished on Jan.1, 2005)
One Final Note: I'd like to thank Pastor Farwell for his dedication in the word of God. His tireless work on this and related topics is what made this article possible. May our God and Father continue to bless him in his ministry.
In His Grace,