1 Thessalonians – An Introduction

We are not gathering this evening (graduation preparation). We will begin our summer study of Paul next Tuesday, June 7 with 1 Thessalonians.  Please take the opportunity this week to read through the whole letter.  It should take you about 15 minutes.  Paul wrote this letter to be read in full by the local congregation.  By reading the entire letter at once, it will be easier for us to discuss its various passages within context.  Also, as you read through the letter, please remember that Paul didn’t write in chapters and verses (and also didn’t write with punctuation, lowercase lettering, or any spacing).  Although the verse numberings are convenient to ensure we are all reading the same sentence during our discussion, try not to allow these numbers to influence how you read his message.

If you are interested in reading more about the organization and cultural context of 1 Thessalonians, and have attached two essays found in Abraham Malherbe’s Paul and the Popular Philosophers. pp.49-77. (I doubt we will be discussing this book; however, it provides a great background to our readings.) Within these two chapters, Malherbe shows how Paul borrows heavily from the traditional language and genre of contemporary philosophical discourses but modifies them within the context of the gospel.  The letter itself is paranetic or pastoral in the manner of contemporary Stoics (like Seneca) or Cynics (like Dio Chrysostom).  In the first part of the letter, Paul presents himself as a father or a nurse, and then he offers consolation to his audience for the trials they have suffered.  This letter is not apologetic (a defense of Paul’s teaching) or (pedagogic a teaching itself). So when Paul speaks of the Parousia (Christ’s second coming) he does so to console those who are grieving and not to provide systematic theological instruction.

Malherbe also draws the distinctions between Paul and contemporary popular philosophers.  The Stoics and the Cynics would present themselves as examples to follow and would show how they, through their superior will and determination, had conquered their passions and obtained moral excellence.  Like them, Paul presents himself as an example and a bringer of a particular teaching.  However, for Paul, the power to become excellent is not his own but that of the Holy Spirit.  Paul’s audience would have understood these contemporary philosophical tropes used by Paul, and understood, that unlike his contemporaries, Paul himself was merely a messenger for the true teacher who is Christ Jesus.

I am excited about beginning our journey through 1 & 2 Thessalonians next Tuesday.  Again, all you need is a Bible (and we have extra).

For we know, brethren beloved by God, that he has chosen you; for our teaching came to you not only in word, but also in power in the Holy Spirit.

1 Thessalonians 1:4-5

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