An argument is a determination of the theme and/or purpose of a book of the Bible, and a tracing through of the book to determine how each passage relates to the development of that theme or purpose. While an argument is not an exposition, it can be of great assistance in the interpretation and exposition of a book or passage.
I wrote this argument while a student at Dallas Theological Seminary. It is written from a dispensational, premillennial viewpoint.
NOTE: The footnotes are at the bottom of this document. I plan to turn the footnotes into active links in a future release.
The Pauline authorship of I Thessalonians is all but universally accepted. Although the Tubingen and Dutch schools denied its Pauline authorship,1 their reasons for rejecting it are not convincing.2 The following is offered in evidence of Pauline authorship:
I Thessalonians 3:6 refers to the coming of Timothy from Thessalonica, which seems to coincide with Acts 18:5, where Silas and Timothy joined Paul in Corinth after ministry in Macedonia. The date of the epistle can be fixed fairly accurately at A.D. 50 or 51, based on an inscription at Delphi relating to the date of Gallio's proconsulship and the fact that Paul probably appeared before him just shortly after he assumed office (Acts 18:12-18).8
Thessalonica, the most important seaport of Macedonia, was on the Roman highway know as the Egnatian Way. The city was founded by Cassander, one of the four generals to whom Alexander's empire was divided after his death. In 315 B.C., Cassander grouped together the villagers of the area on the site which was called "Therme," and named the city in honor of his wife, the stepsister of Alexander.9 Because of its allegiance to Augustus and Antony in their struggle with Brutus and Cassius, it was made a free city and served as the capital of one of the four districts of Macedonia during Roman times. It was given autonomy in internal affairs, its rulers being known as "politarchs."10
Paul, Timothy and Silas came to Thessalonica after their ministry in Philippi, where they had been wrongfully beaten and cast into prison. In Thessalonica Paul preached in the synagogue, and some of the Jews believed, along with a "great multitude" of devout Greeks. The unbelieving Jews, however, stirred up trouble, and Paul was forced to leave the city (Acts 17:1-9).
The reference to the "great multitude" of Greeks who believed (Acts 17:4), to the fact that the readers "turned to God from idols" (1:9), and the fact that they suffered from their own countrymen as opposed to the Jews (2:14) indicates that the church was comprised largely of Gentiles.
The occassion of the letter is the good report which Paul received from Timothy after the latter returned from a visit to Thessalonica (3:6). In addition to the good news, however, Timothy apparently reported som difficulties which had arisen in the church and needed correction. The purposes of the epistle, therefore, are manifold:
The purposes seem to be many, but perhaps they could all be boiled down into one statement; the purpose of the First Epistle to the Thessalonians was to encourage and instruct the infant church in the proper practice of its newfound faith.
It was Paul's standard procedure in his epistles to commend his readers at the beginning of the epistle. This he does in verses 2-10, after his greeting. Much of what he says here is probably what he heard from Timothy.
Notice that Paul includes Timothy and Silvanus (Luke calls him Silas) with him. These two accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey, and according to Acts 18:5, med him in Corinth after they had been in Macedonia. This data is pertinent to the dating of the epistle (see above).
This form of greeting, stating the author and then the recipient, was common in the first century.12 His use of both the Greek (grace) and Hebrew (peace) greetings in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ added special significance to the greeting in that it indicated the sphere of their communication.
In keeping with his purpose of expressing his joy at learning of their stalwart faith, Paul tells the Thessalonians about his constant thanksgiving on their behalf. He remembers their work of faith (that is, the good works produced by faith), their labor of love (that is, the fatiguing toil for one another to which love has led them), and their patience of hope (that is, their endurance of persecution which is made possible by their hope in Christ's return),13 and is certain of their election.
Having just stated that he was certain of their election (v.4), Paul now goes on, in verses 5-10, to give the reasons why he is so certain of their election, namely, that they became exemplary followers of the Lord (verses 5-7), and that their faith was such that news of it was spread abroad (verses 8-10).
Paul expresses the confidence which he and the other missionaries had when they preached in Thessalonica, knowing tht they did so in the power of the Holy Spirit and in proper conduct. The readers responded to their word by becoming their followers, which means that they became, in actuality, the Lord's followers. That they "received the word in much affliction" is a reference to the problems caused by some of the Jews when the missionary party was with them. Jason, one of their own number, was required to put up some sort of bond (Acts 17:5-10). But despite this affliction, they also received the Word "with joy of the Holy Ghost." Their joyful reception of the Word in the face of adversity made them a good example (the singular is preferable to the plural of the AV14) to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.
Word of the faith of these Thessalonian believers had spread far and wide. Paul says that wherever they went, they had no need to speak of their mission in Thessalonica, because word had already gotten around. Perhaps Timothy, when meeting Paul in Corinth, said something to the effect of, "It seems that wherever we went, people know about the Thessalonian church." The word was out that Paul's missionary endeavors in Thessalonica were successful, and that those people made a complete break from their false gods, those dead idols of wood and stone, and now serve a God that is both alive and genuine (the article is absent, so it should read "a living and true God." The stress here is on His nature as alive and genuine).15 Being now among the redeemed, these Thessalonian believers were waiting for the Son's coming from heaven, when He would deliver them from the wrath to come.
In this section, Paul moves on to his purpose of defending himself against the accusations, probably made by his Jewish opponents, the he, like so many other wandering charlatans, was interested only in personal gain. He had been charged with sneaking away when he was in danger, and the Thessalonians were probably told that they would never see him again16 Paul shows such charges to be false.
Paul reminds them of his actions when he was with them to show that these charges are false.
Paul opens his defense with the words, "For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you." Thie calling of the Thessalonians to witness did two things: first, it showed his confidence in them, and second, it demonstrated that all the facts required for his vindication were facts of common knowledge.17 The maning of "vain" is best understood, with Lightfoot, as "hollow, empty, wanting in purpose and earnestness." 18 Paul is asserting, therefore, that his visit was purposeful. He reminds them of the trouble that they had in Philippi, and yet despite that trouble they were still willing to preach in Thessalonica, even when things started to get rough there. In light of this, how could they possibly believe that he preached only for what he could get out of it? Would not a charlatan run when the going got tough?
Paul denies having any impure motives at all.19 Since they had the sacred trust of the gospel committed to them, they were obligated to preach it truly, as would please God. Paul calls the Thessalonians to witness that he never used flattering words with them (the Greek term has the idea of using fair words as a means of gaining one's own ends),20 and he calls God to witness to the fact that he wore no "cloke of covetousness," i.e., he did not have a greedy heart. He sought neither money nor glory.
Here Paul calls both the Thessalonians and God to witness that his conduct had been impeccable. Not only was his behavior holy, just and blameless, but he was exhorting them to live in the same way, that they may walk as befits those who are of God's kingdom.
Paul seems here to point to the Thessalonians themselves as a witness to the reliability of his message. They received his message for what it truly is - the Word of God. That this Word "effectually worketh also in you that believe" is demonstrated by the fact that these Thessalonian believers were able to endure sufferings at the hands of their own coutrymen, just as the Judean churches, and Paul himself, had suffered persecution from some of the Jews. Having mentioned this, Pauls seems to be reminded of the godlessness which some of the Jews had displayed recently, and he no doubt had in mind how they had prevented him from speaking further to the Gentiles in Thessalonica by chasing him out of town.
Paul, therefore, has referred to his conduct and preaching in Thessalonica to demonstrate to them that he was neither a coward nor a charlatan, but a true servant of God.
Paul had a genuine concern for the Thessalonian believers and, far from intending never to see them again, greatly desired to see them. In 2:17-3:13, he explains his involuntary absense and the reasons for Timothy's mission, and then, joyful at Timothy's report, he prays that God will cause the church to continue to flourish.22
Paul's opponents had apparently told the Thessalonian Christians that he had no intentions of ever coming to see them again.23 But nothing could be farther from the truth! Paul tried repeatedly to get back to see them, but Satan somehow kept him from returning - perhaps through the agency of his persecutors. It only makes sense that he would be eager to see them, since at Christ's return they would be for him a crown of rejoicing.
Paul was greatly concerned for this young church - so much so that he sent Timothy to them from Athens. Timothy's mission had two purposes: first, he was to strengthen the Thessalonian believers. Paul realized that they would "suffer tribulation," and sent Timothy to help them. The second purpose of Timothy's mission was so that he could report to Paul how the church was doing. In the last clause of verse 5, "and our labor be in vain," the verb is subjunctive, which throws doubt on the idea that it had been in vain. In other words, he had some confidence in them even before hearing Timothy's report.
There are two problems in these verses which must be commented upon. The first is the use of "we" instead of "I" in verse 1. This is a problem because, according to Acts 17:15, Paul was at Athens alone. Another problem is that in the Acts account, Timothy was not dispatched from Athens.
The problem with the pronoun is easily explained as an epistolary plural.24 The problem of the missionaries' movements is best explained as follows: Paul left Timothy and Silas behind in Berea when he went to Athens. They later came to him in Athens, but from there Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to inquire of the state of the church there. In time he returned to Paul, now at Corinth, with his report of the church's faith. Luke omitted these details because they were not important to his purpose in Acts.25
Therefore, in contrast to being unconcerned about the Thessalonians, Paul was so concerned that he was willing to dispatch one of his badly-needed helpers to comfort them and report back to him on how they were doing.
Paul's concern for the Thessalonians is further seen in his joyful response at hearing that they stand firm in the faith. He is glad to hear of their faith, their love, and their good attitude towards him. He is glad to hear that they desire to see him again. The fact that they stand firm gives Paul new strength and vitality amidst all his affliction and distress.26 This good news causes Paul to give thanks to God and to pray fervently and frequently that he may be able to return to them, for now that he is assured of their faith he has even greater reason for seeing them, namely, that he "might perfect that which is lacking" in their faith.
So contrary to being indifferent, Paul is overjoyed at the good news of their steadfastness, and all the more eager to see them.
In these three verses, Paul utters a prayer that God would direct his way to them, make them abound in love, and sanctify them. This prayer shows his tender love for the Thessalonian church, and it is on such a note of tenderness that he ends his defense against the false accusations of self- seeking which had been made against him.
In this section, Paul deals with the problems of immorality, laziness and disrespect of leaders, to name but a few.
The expression "furthermore then" marks a transition between his defense and the practical instruction which he is about to offer. Now that he has demonstrated a genuine concern for them, they should be willing to hear what he has to say regarding the way in which they ought to walk.
This general exhortation is that they obey the commandments which they received from Paul and the others when they were with them, and that they "would abound more and more." A Christian should never rest satisfied with his state of sanctification, so Paul encourages them further.27
This exhortation was probably intended more as a preventive measure than a rebuke, since there is no specific mention of immorality here, as in I Corinthians 5. But loose sexual mores were a problem in many pagan cultures of the day, and Paul wanted to guard against it. Abstinence from fornication is part of being sanctified. Everyone is to "possess his vessel in sanctification and honour," that is, to avoid using the body for impure purposes,28 rather than to use it for impure purposes, as do the "Gentiles which know not God" (as opposed to the Gentiles who do know God, such as the Thessalonian believers). Verse 6, "That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter" (the marginal reading, "in the matter," is preferred), indicates that sexual looseness represents an act of injustice to someone other than the two parties concerned. It violates the priviledges of a spouse or future spouse, and against such people, Paul warns, the Lord will take action.29 The Christian's calling is to holiness, not to uncleanness, so to live immorally would be to despise God, since He gave us His Holy Spirit.
Paul's language here indicates that the Thessalonian Christians were already exercising brotherly love, not only among themselves but also to all the other believers in Macedonia. But this, too, is an area in which the Christian can never rest satisfied.30
The problem of laziness is believed to have arisen out of the belief that Christ would return very soon.31 They reasoned that since He would be coming soon anyway, there was no need to earn any money, since it would be worthless when He came. But this idleness tended to make busibodies out of some of them, and may have been giving the church a bad reputation. And II Thessalonians 3:10-12 seems to indicate that those who were out of work were mooching off of the more conscientious brethren. Paul therefore exhorts them that by working with their own hands they will both save the church's testimony and provide for their own needs.
The Thessalonian believers seemed to be particularly interested in Christ's return, and they apparently had questions concerning those who died before the rapture occurred, being concerned that they might miss the blessed event. But Paul comforts them here with the information that "the dead in Christ shall rise first," and encourages them to comfort one another with these words.
Paul reminds them here that the time of the rapture cannot be predicted. Therefore, those who are children of the day (i.e., Christians) are to "watch and be sober." They are to live with the full realization that the Lord could come for them at any minute. Such a realization should cause one to live a life of holiness.
There seem to have been some problems between the church leaders and the flock. Perhaps some of the flock did not consider the leaders to be worthy of their offices, necessitating the command to "esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake." The command to "be at peace among yourselves" would apply to the leaders as well as the flock, since leaders at times can help to widen the gap between themselves and the people.32
These verses have to do with keeping each other out of trouble, and helping each other when we get into trouble.
These four verses seem to be related. The idea appears to be that to despise prophesy in the sense that its proper exercise is prohibited would be to quench the Spirit. There was a danger, however, of false teaching coming in through this channel,33 so they were to "prove all things," and hold fast to the good while abstaining from the evil. Paul may have been addressing some sort of problem in the church related to such utterances.
Paul's closing prayer is that God will sanctify the Thessalonian believers, and that they will stay sanctified until the Lord comes for them. He assures them of God's faithfulness in carrying out His purposes.
In parting, Paul requests that the Thessalonians pray for him and his company. He commands them to greet one another with a holy kiss, a custom which was later curtailed because of abuse and heathen misunderstanding.34 He also commands them to make sure that his letter is read to all the brethren.
Paul ends the epistle with a prayer for the sustaining grace of the Lord Jesus Christ upon the Thessalonians.
Paul has fulfilled many purposes in writing this epistle. In Chapter 1, he expressed his joy in the Thessalonians' faith. In Chapters 2 and 3, he defended himself against accusations of self-seeking by demonstrating his sincerity and a genuine concern for the believers in Thessalonica. Then, in Chapters 4 and 5, he gave the infant church some instructions related to some problem areas, or potential problem areas, such as immorality, questions concerning the rapture and respect for their leaders.
1Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, p. 567.
2Leon Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, p. 28.
3Guthrie, p. 567
5Morris, p. 27
7Guthrie, p. 568
8Ibid., p. 566
9Pfeiffer and Vos, ed., Wycliffe Historical Geography of Bible Lands, p. 457.
10Charles Pfeiffer, ed., Baker's Bible Atlas, p. 222.
11Morris, pp. 20-23 and Guthrie, pp. 565-566.
12Morris, p. 45.
13Daniel A. Hubbard in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 1349.
15Morris, p. 63.
16Ibid., p. 22.
17Ibid., p. 68.
19There seems to be a big dispute over the meanings of the words in verse 3. Rather than get into word studies, I have just made a general statement.
20Morris, p. 73.
21Hubbard, p. 1350.
23Morris, p. 93
24Ibid., pp. 98-99.
25John Phillips, Exploring the Scriptures, p. 252. Guthrie also holds this view (see p. 569).
26Hubbard, p. 1353.
27Morris, p. 119.
28Morris, pp. 123-124. This seems the best interpretation of this phrase. For an alternative interpretation, see Alford, Vol. 3, pp. 268-269.
29Ibid., p. 126-127.
30Ibid., p. 131.
31Ibid., p. 132.
32Ibid., p. 168.
33James Gray, Christian Workers' Commentary, p. 402.
34Hubbard, p. 1358.
Alford, Henry. Alford's Greek Testament. Grand Rapids: Guardian Press, 1976.
Gray, James M. Christian Workers' Commentary. London: Fleming H. Revell, 1915.
Guthrie, Donald. New Testament Introduction, Downers Grove: IVP, 1970.
Morris, Leon. The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959.
Pfeiffer, Charles F. Baker's Bible Atlas. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1973.
Pfeiffer, Charles F. and Harrison, Everett F., ed., The Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press, 1962.
Pfeiffer, Charles F. and Vos, Howard F., ed., Wycliffe Historical Geography of Bible Lands. Chicago: Moody Press, 1967.