Our study of the Epistles begins with an old story repeated once again. Paul has come to Thessalonica after a bitter and painful experience at Philippi. What the exact details are, at this point in his writings, we do not know. Paul gives us no indication as to what had occurred, or what brought about his terrible treatment in that city. Sometimes, silence can indicate more than words.
Paul makes no reference to his misfortune having come from preaching a gospel about Jesus of Nazareth. In the same manner, King Aretas tried to have him captured and put to death for some unknown trespass. Theologians only assume that it was due to his preaching, for Paul remains silent. If that premise had been true, keeping in mind the manner in which Paul always boasted about sermonizing his gospel, he would not have hesitated to make the point once again.
But one might as easily conjecture that the missionary's egoistic attitude and his self-proclaimed importance, as authoritative and insulting as it will prove out to have been, caused him more problems than anything else.
It is obvious from works other than Paul's, that the authorities were still-hunting down the followers of Jesus for sedition and not for religious reasons. This is made plain from the report we have concerning Jason, and the authorities in Thessalonica. The trouble was started by Paul.
Paul had preached to the Jews, with some success among the Jews and Gentile believers. Acts suggests that the Jews, aroused with resentment, organized a riot during which Paul and Silvanus hurriedly left the city. This violent action caused trouble with the civil authorities and made it necessary for Paul to bring his crusade to an abrupt end and move to Beroea. (Peake's Commentary on the Bible; Page 996: 869b)
"...they dragged Jason and some of the brethren before the city authorities... and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus." (Acts 17: 6-7; RSV)
Luke states that the Jews could not find Paul so, "...they dragged Jason and some of the brethren before the city authorities, crying, "These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them; and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus." (Acts 17:6-7 RSV)
Paul left the Thessalonian Christians to suffer at the hands of their own countrymen. (Peake's Commentary on the Bible; Page 912: 794e)
As soon as there was any indication that trouble was headed their way, Paul and his associates manage to escape the predicament.
"The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Beroea." (Acts 17:10; RSV)
Once again, Paul is aided in a stealthy escape, leaving those he called 'brethren' behind to suffer the direct affront of the civil authorities. Such was the case in the Arabias, and in Damascus. The instigator manages to slip away from the punishment suffered by his followers. In this scenario, Peake's Commentary also agrees. They suggest that the missionaries may have appealed to the pagan population. This may also have terminated in trouble with the civil authorities, as described in Acts, which forced Paul to bring his campaign to an abrupt end and flee to Beroea. (Peake's Commentary on the Bible; Page 996: 869b)
This is not the first, or the last, time Paul would leave others to pay the price for his actions. Anxiety finally irritates Paul's conscience, but he is still above the problems he has caused others. Let it suffice to say that Paul was not always to be a free man, but even that device was by his own invention.
From here, Paul proceeded to Athens alone and then to Corinth. In a depressed state of mind and in ill health after his failure at Athens, we finally see evidence of some anxiety on Paul's part concerning the state of affairs in which he left the brethren in Thessalonica. Timothy is sent to investigate the situation.
Paul's anxiety over Thessalonica prompts him to call Timothy from Beroea to Athens (Acts. 17:15). He was sent to Thessalonica (1Thesslonicans 3:1) to find out how Jason and the others were doing in face of, "...official opposition..." (Peake's Commentary on the Bible; Page 996: 869c)
Here, our professional friends are kind enough to consider the problem that Paul caused as, 'official opposition'.
Upon the return of Timothy and Silvanus, with a report that the brethren have not only survived attacks by the authorities and the Jews but are doing well, Paul writes to the church at Thessalonica. The letter most probably dates to 50 A.D. There is obvious relief in the tone of this writing, and we begin our study of that letter with this short history in mind.
Paul introduces himself and his two fellow missionaries, Silvanus and Timothy. At this point, Barnabas, Paul's sponsor and chief agent in the beginnings of the church at Antioch, is no longer with Paul. He has been replaced by Silvanus, after carrying the major portion of the work in Corinth, Iconium, and Lystra. But it is not unusual for Paul to 'rid' himself of those who might bring question upon that which he considers to be his own work, as well as inquiries concerning his authority, as we will see.
The honest scholar must remember that it was Barnabas who, at a most opportune moment, expressed faith in Paul, was successful in bringing him before the several disciples, and started him in his lifework. That, of course, did not begin for another fourteen years after this first meeting in Jerusalem. Barnabas was held in the highest esteem by the Apostles, who gave him a new name, "Barnabas, son of encouragement." He constantly discovered and educated others who overshadowed him, as proven by his selection of Paul and John Mark." (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 10: Page 468)
Now, Barnabas is cast aside, Silas takes his place, and Paul takes credit for mentor's work in Corinth, Iconium, and Lystra.
This is reported in Acts 4:36; 13:1; 1 Corinthians 12:28. Timothy is also chosen to take John Mark's place, who left Paul for reasons which will shortly be revealed. (Acts 13:5c; 15:37-38; 17:15) (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 11: Page 254)
Paul's character would never permit another to be known in this light, for it immediately cast doubt on the claim that his authority and his call did not come from mortal men! Especially with Barnabas' work in Antioch, Corinth, Iconium, and Lystra, and being widely renowned throughout the Jerusalem Church.
But why did John Mark choose not to continue his journey with Paul?
"And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, "Come, let us return and visit the brethren in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are." And Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. And there was a sharp contention, so that they separated from each other; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed..." (Acts 15:36-40; RSV) (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 9: Page 208)
Though not known for certain, this student believes that Mark saw what Paul was about, his manner and his method, and disapproving, separated himself from the man.
After all of his hard work in establishing four churches which Paul later takes credit for, Barnabas is suddenly gone from the remaining epic. We will never know the true story since the author of this narrative is the one who caused the removal of these two missionaries much as he erased the place of Ananias in the story of his 'conversion vision'.
Stranger still, while under continuing protective custody and toward the end of his life, Paul asks specifically for John Mark, claiming that he is very useful in serving him. (II Timothy 4:11) This is something of a discrepancy.
We must also make mention of Paul's use of the proper name, Jesus Christ, and we are told that he meant it as such! The name, as used by Paul, appears ten times. It is, obviously, a phrase coined by Paul of which we see much as his theologies grow. ( Interpreter's Bible; Volume 10: Page 19)
It is, in fact, an improper name for, Jesus who is called the Christ; who is God's Messiah.. It was coined and used by Paul regardless of the fact that it was incorrect. That it has become a common term within the bounds of Christianity, is only one small example of the effect this individual has on our modern theological practices.
"For we know, brethren beloved by God, that he has chosen you; for our gospel came to you not only in the word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction." (1 Thessalonians 1:4-5; RSV)
Paul's obsession with his own person, his own authority, his own gospel, begin to make their mark and professional interpreters agree with this fact. (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 11: Page 261)
First, I address the terminology used by Paul, 'our gospel'. This is a term that Paul uses constantly, and although it appears quite innocent at this writing, later it takes on much greater significance. Of first note, it tells us that other gospels were being actively spread through this same territory.
Second, Paul says that this gospel, "...came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit..." (1 Thessalonians 1:4; RSV)
Where did Paul receive this gift? It was not bestowed upon him by the Apostles, and most assuredly not by Jesus. He was not present at Pentecost. What we seem to have is Paul's generalization of a very specific, physical act in which certain individuals are given the gifts of God's Spirit. Paul uses it here to expound the authority of his gospel, but no 'gift' as is usual with this agency is in evidence.
Our professional interpreter's have nothing to say about this oddity, which today, is in common use within the body of the church. It is expressed whenever any one wishes to impress others with the authority or importance of an act or statement, when no such power has actually been given. Paul obviously uses it in this context in his writing. Peake's Commentary, however, seems to give reason to Paul's writing, and we shall not leave their thoughts out. (Peake's Commentary on the Bible; page 997: 870b)
The Greek text uses the term, pneumati agio, which is not indicative of the Holy Spirit himself, but of his gift. In this case, Paul considers his gospel to be a gift of the Spirit.
As a personal comment by this student, I would venture a word of caution. Those who comprise the body of the church today have adopted a very dangerous concept. It is, expressly, that no other spiritual power can possible evidence itself in the works of man in his 'congregation' other than God or His Holy Spirit. There is, however, another power that any sane individual must always take into account when pursuing matters that are beyond mortal concepts.
Jesus warned us of it in a most serious manner, but we have chosen to make light of that source of spiritual energy. Here, we note a comment of the translator's that might best be taken with a grain of salt, for there is one power beyond all others save the Lord God of Hosts and His Holy Spirit, which can also lead man astray without his ever being aware of that interference. It is beyond foolishness to make jokes, or to wave aside as insignificant, an enemy that has the power to seduce and destroy us without effort.
To believe that we have the power to overcome that One, to laugh at that existence when one has never faced it flesh-to-flesh, breath-to-breath, and face-to- face is to invite certain disaster. In this instance, when the shadows are being lifted from the character of Paul for the first time, it would be best to reserve our judgment as to which power was leading the direction of the 'church' and the man.
When involved in mortal combat, it is always wise to know your enemy. In our case, we have chosen to ignore him. But it is time to continue with Paul's letter.
"...Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come." (I Thessalonians 1:10; RSV)
Since Paul envisioned Jesus' return in his own lifetime, it is likely that Paul also conceived of a 'timeless' savior (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 11: Page 265) who would deliver those who believed in him from the Day of Judgment, the Day of God's wrath. Unfortunately, Jesus is reflected in Revelation as stating just the opposite.
"Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done." (Revelation 22:12; RSV)
It is also interesting to note the problem that Paul had at Philippi. In this letter, Paul does not bother to explain what problems they had encountered. He simply states that they were, "...shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know..." (I Thessalonians 2:2)
However, if Luke is to be believed in this scenario, Paul's quick temper and irritable nature provide the vehicle for their being put into prison. If Paul had such power, than this would be the only evidence of it in his entire ministry. Paul never mentions it, and might well have been embarrassed by the revelation of his uncalled-for deed.
"As we were going to the place of worship, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by soothsaying. She followed Paul and us, crying, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation." And this she did for many days. But Paul was annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, "I charge you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." And it came out that very hour." (Acts 16:16-18; RSV)
"...'spirit of divination; literally 'python', a name derived from the serpent slain by Apollo at Delphi. Since the Delphic priestess was inspired to give oracles, a 'python spirit' meant a spirit of soothsaying." (Peake's Commentary on the Bible; page 911: 793 L) This statement is quoted here as a matter of definition, and nothing more.
The resulting outcry is not what concerns us here, it is the matter of Paul casting out a gift of the Spirit because it annoyed him. This 'gift', one of many that were manifest at Pentecost, and of which Paul spoke as being evidenced within the 'church' as the gift of prophecy, originally meaning, 'foreseeing', was surely given by the Holy Spirit, for it apparently proclaimed the authority of God and His Spirit. There is no conclusion made that it was an evil spirit.
The woman makes use of the title, "Most High God." See, Luke 8:28 where, as here, it occurs in the utterance of a demoniac. It was used in syncretistic cults as a title for a supreme deity, being derived from Judaism. There is no reason to believe that this woman, or her owners, belonged to such a cult. (Peake's Commentary on the Bible; Page 911: 793j)
The theologians attempt to convict the girl as a 'demoniac', but there is no such charge established or even hinted at by Paul or Luke. It is absolute rubbish to attempt a cover-up for this act of outright 'vandalism' with unauthenticated accusations. And if the truth be known, Paul himself was influenced by his Pharisaic education, his Hellenistic upbringing, and the pagan religions that influenced him and his times.
One must surely keep this negligent act in mind when evaluating the nature of the man. If this is truly the reason for their 'shameful treatment. It was Paul who brought it on himself, and not those who resided in Philippi. And it was not caused by his preaching any gospel. Regardless of the spirit's 'residence', or the owners' profession, he had no right to do what he did, especially because he, "....was annoyed."
Keep in mind that the gift of 'prophecy' is highly regarded by Paul. The powers of 'divination' and 'soothsaying', are no less than the gift of prophecy.
It is here that Paul makes his first claim to a questionable authority. It is a claim that will bring immediate and harsh response from those in the Jerusalem Church. The Twelve and the church elders, who are to remain Paul's constant adversaries, are quick to respond to his outrageous claim.
"...nor did we seek glory from men, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ." (I Thessalonians 2:6; RSV)
Paul has grown in stature. From a mysterious vision near the Damascus Road, to being the bearer of 'his' gospel, to being "...approved by God..." (I Thessalonians 2:4; RSV) to being an apostle. The fact that this statement is openly challenged comes to light through Paul's own written word, which we will investigate within this thesis.
The point here is that until that moment, the 'Apostles' were the 'Twelve', chosen by Jesus! Although this was fully discussed in, 'In Defense of the Apostles Faith', we must note that there can be no higher calling than to have been chosen by the Christ himself. This was not the case with Paul, who in an effort to begin casting the frame of a self-pronounced authority, reduces the meaning of 'apostle' to some lesser definition.
In this instance, he proceeds the term with, 'WE'.. It is very shortly to become, 'ME'. There is no explanation given by theologians or interpreter's for Paul's sudden use of the title except to apply it to himself whenever his name is mentioned. Yet, there is no evidence as to how he attained this position save by his own proclamation.
See: Peake's Commentary on the Bible; Page 997: 870g
It is not clear if this statement by the theologians points toward the, Twelve, or Paul's group. There is certainly no evidence that Paul or any of his following were commissioned by Christ as his apostles. But the modern church has gone Paul one better by proclaiming him to be, Saint Paul.
It is also stated that they are preaching, "...the gospel of God." (I Thessalonians 2:9; RSV)
"And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as what it really is, the word of God..." (I Thessalonians 2:13; RSV)
This claim is to be extremely revealing in future correspondence. The statement becomes extraordinary later as Paul's thinking becomes more telling and his battle against the Gospel preached by the Apostles, escalates. Paul is saying that the church is to take the gospel he preaches as the word of God Himself, not as a gospel preached by men. The authoritative tone is striking.
Paul then makes an all-condemning statement which, in later ages, the church takes up with a vengeance.
"...for you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out..."
We have already learned that Paul was a Diaspora Jew, and one proud both of his heritage and his standing as a Pharisee. He would be whenever convenience demanded it. Now however, he turns on his own countrymen as he will later turn on all that he learned, "...at the feet of Gamaliel, educated according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers..." (Acts 22:3; RSV)
Paul's words are even questioned by professional theologians who find his attitude severe, and unreconciled with his normal view of his fellow Jews. (Peake's Commentary on the Bible; Page 998: 870h)
Even in this passage the theologian makes the daring statement that the Jews were guilty of the crime of crucifixion. I would remand all students and teachers alike to review the Gospel stories with great care.
The Jews as a people, and especially the Palestinian Jews, had nothing to do with seeking Jesus' death. And although the Pharisees, the priesthood, sought to have him killed they did not crucify him and he was not put to death for any religious crime, i.e., heresy, apostasy, or sacrilege. It is in order to note, however, just how Paul's ideas have filtered down to our modern minds.
Paul continues with this unhappy disposition. Giving voice concerning his previous plans to visit Thessalonica, possibly on more than one occasion, he tells us that he was deprived of that meeting, claiming that, "...Satan hindered us."
This statement takes us back to the ease with which spiritual terminology flows off the lips of men, especially Paul, for it is highly questionable as to whether he faced that One in the flesh. It also brings an interesting statement from the Interpreter's Bible.
Luke, in Acts 16:6 tells us that Paul is said to have been "forbidden by the Holy Spirit" to preach the word in Asia. According to Acts 16:7, when he wanted to go to Bithynia "the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them" (cf. I Cor. 16:9). Again, professional Christians question how Paul was able to determine whether it was Satan or the Spirit who changed his plans.
This writer is one who believes that the decision was made according to Paul's mood and what he desired. If he wanted to do something and unfortunate circumstances prevented it, then it was Satan who plotted against him. If he languished about a journey, or was hesitant about doing something and decided against it, then the Holy Spirit had intervened on his behalf.
Paul was, in fact, much like the church today, users of words but less acquainted with the 'spirituality' of the thing than they would have us believe. Too many things are said for convenience sake rather than from a true knowledge of the entities involved. Claims are made about the Holy Spirit without a real experience with God's Spirit. Claims are made about the Evil One without a factual confrontation with that being.
Paul's letter has dealt with things past, and he recalls having sent Timothy to check on the community. Now he revels in the present with Timothy returned bringing good news. However, Paul's communication gives evidence that someone is attempting to 'undermine' his work.
"...we sent Timothy, our brother and God's servant in the gospel of Christ, to establish you in your faith and to exhort you, that no one be moved..." (I Thessalonians 2-3; RSV)
As was usual with Paul, terms that he uses are found nowhere else in the Greek scriptures. The words here mean, to be 'deceived' or 'led astray'. This would seem to indicate that others might be at work to hinder Paul's gospel. The scholars of, The Interpreter's Bible, agree. (The Interpreter's bible; Volume 11: Page 285)
"...for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and that our labor would be in vain." (I Thessalonians 3:5)
Was Paul speaking of the Evil One, or some party who might believe that Paul's gospel was not the correct gospel? This is a growing theme, not only in Paul's mind, but also in his writings to the various churches. In this case, Peake's believes that he is referring to Satan, but that One does not come to Paul as himself, but is reflected in Paul's mind, "...in the person of the Jews who were trying to undo all the achievements of the campaign (cf 2:1-12)." (Peake's Commentary on the Bible; Page 998: 871d)
We must keep in mind that the, Twelve, were Jews; that the Jerusalem Church, was the Judaic-Christian movement, and that Paul was preaching without a first hand knowledge of Jesus' life actions or teachings. His gospel was coming from his interpretation of what he had heard from third parties via an oral tradition and not from an actual life experience.
We must also keep in mind that Jesus' mission was a Palestinian movement, and a Galilean. Paul, being a Dispersion Jew, would not place the same definitions and values on religious matters as Jesus and the disciples did. This can be verified by the fact of their different views and dates of celebration of, The Passover.
We must continually remind ourselves that the misfortune experienced by the Thessalonian congregation was brought down on them by Paul. He has, however, once again escaped the pain and anguish that he has caused others. This time there appears to have been great anxiety on his part, perhaps from feelings of guilt.
Paul goes on to indicate that he and his associates had taught the Thessalonians how they, "...ought to live and please God, just as you are doing, you do so more and more." (I Thessalonians 4:1)
He then goes on to outline what has already been instructed about immorality, marriage, and social behavior. But Paul does not include us in the particulars of these concepts and we are left to gather them from later writings. He does, however, leave us with a threat of God's vengeance. "...for whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you." (I Thessalonians 4:8; RSV)
It is indicative of Paul's nature that he supports the authority of his teachings with a threat of violence that will be occasioned by The Almighty should anyone disregard his word. Quite obviously Paul believes that his instruction, his 'word', is the word of God, and to deviate from his instructions is to bring the wrath of God down on their heads. Having completed this part of the letter, Paul states his theology very clearly. His utmost expectation was that Jesus was going to return at any moment, without fail, during his lifetime.
"For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep... And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord." (I Thessalonians: 4: 14-17; RSV)
As uncertain as any one else, Paul opens a part of the letter that would appear to be derived from Jesus teaching about the coming of the Kingdom. It is completely foreign to any of Jesus' teachings about the Kingdom of Heaven, and in the Gospels, this parable has political overtones. Here, Paul uses it to refer to the return of, Jesus. Theologians and translators alike, however, have difficulty with this.
"You yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night." (I Thessalonians 5:2; RSV)
As to Paul's teaching on how to live, we have no indication as to how they came to this knowledge. It is the theologian's belief that it is Paul's teaching, as elsewhere in the letters to the Thessalonians, and not God's. (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 11: Page 308)
In other words, this is probably Paul's personal belief concerning the parousia. Even though it corresponds with the Gospels, as we have already pointed out, it is in a completely foreign context to that which Jesus was teaching. Paul continues with the very core of Christian belief, the sacrifice of Jesus' life for our salvation.
"For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we wake or sleep we might live with him." (I Thessalonians 5:9-10)
The traditional act of the blood offering of a human sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, is as ancient as man. It has appeared in every society at one time or another. It has eventually been replaced by a God of love and compassion who has forgiven those who follow His ordinances and attempt to lead a righteous life through the path He has chosen for them. This is true in every case, with the exception of Christianity.
This custom is propelled by Paul throughout his ministry and continues to be the very center of the Christian faith.
Paul ends the letter beseeching the Thessalonians to commit themselves to 'righteous' living and kindness to one another. In doing so, we must pay attention to his final admonition.
"Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying, but test everything; hold fast to what is good, abstain from every form of evil." (I Thessalonians 5:19-22)
From the example we have of Paul's actions in casting out the spirit of 'divination' in Acts, it might be proper to note that he is apparently asking his followers to, 'Do what I say, not what I do."
One other matter must be considered before we end this examination of 1 Thessalonians. Timothy has been referred to as being alone in Thessalonica. But as we are to learn, when Paul sent someone to 'correct' or 'admonish' a congregation, he never sent them without an escort of three or four of the 'brothers'. This is to be proved later in our study, but for the moment, suspicion reigns.
Having already discussed the relevance of II Thessalonians, it would still be a good idea for the honest student to read through that epistle. The differences should be obvious to even the least informed reader, for in it, Jesus becomes the destroyer, (II Thessalonians 1:6-9) there is reference made to letters, "...purporting to be from us...", (II Thessalonians 2:2) which indicates Paul's growing paranoia concerning his teachings, i.e.; his gospel.
There is a tone of apocalyptic nature in the description of the 'rebellion', and a, 'man of lawlessness, the son of perdition'. (II Thessalonians 2:3-4)
None of this is evidenced in any other of Paul's writings. Aside from this, more perfect forms of the high Greek are used which are not a part of Paul's usual writing style or ability. And professional Christian theologians agree that it is not of the Pauline corpus. For study's sake, the reasons are repeated here. (Peake's Commentary on the Bible; Page 996: 869e)
With this in mind, we move on to that which is usually considered Paul's next letter, I Corinthians.