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Second Epistle to the Thessalonians

The Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, also known as the Second Letter to the Thessalonians, is a book from the New Testament of the Christian Bible. It is traditionally attributed to Paul, because it begins, "Paul, and Silvanus, and Timothy, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ;" (2 Thess. 1:1) and ends, "The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write" (2 Thess. 3:17).

Authorship

The authenticity of this epistle is still in widespread dispute.

In favour of authenticity

While Paul's authorship of Second Thessalonians has been questioned more often than his authorship of First Thessalonians, there is more evidence from early Christian writers for his authorship of Second Thessalonians than that of First Thessalonians . The epistle was included in the Marcion canon and the Muratorian fragment; it was mentioned by name by Irenaeus, and quoted by Ignatius, Justin, and Polycarp.

G. Milligan observed that a church which possessed an authentic letter of Paul would be unlikely to accept a fake addressed to them. So also Colin Nicholl who has put forward a substantial argument for the authenticity of Second Thessalonians. He points out that 'the pseudonymous view is ... more vulnerable than most of its advocates conceded. ... The lack of consensus regarding a date and destination ... reflects a dilemma for this position: on the one hand, the date needs to be early enough for the letter to be have been accepted as Pauline ... [on] the other hand, the date and destination need to be such that the author could be confident that no contemporary of 1 Thessalonians ... could have exposed 2 Thessalonians as a ... forgery.'.

Those who believe Paul was the author of 2 Thessalonians also note how Paul drew attention to the authenticity of the letter by signing it himself: "I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand, which is how I write in every letter.. Bruce Metzger writes, "Paul calls attention to his signature, which was added by his own hand as a token of genuineness to every letter of his (3:17)."

Other scholars who hold to authenticity include Beale , Green, Jones, Morris, and Witherington .

In favour of pseudonimity

At the turn of the 20th century scholars such as William Wrede in 1903 and Alfred Loisy in 1933 challenged the traditional view of the authorship. Many today believe that it was not written by Paul but by an associate or disciple after his death, representing what they believed was his message, so Ehrman, Gaventa, Smiles, Schnelle, Boring, and Kelly. Norman Perrin observes, "The best understanding of 2 Thessalonians … is to see it as a deliberate imitation of 1 Thessalonians, updating the apostle's thought.. Perrin bases this claim on his hypothesis that prayer at the time usually treated God the Father as ultimate judge, rather than Jesus. However, some form critics have disagreed, instead holding that only Palestinian Jews would have had any problem worshipping Jesus as God.

Content

The traditional view is that the second epistle to the Thessalonians was probably written from Corinth not many months after the first. Apparently the first letter was misunderstood, especially regarding the second advent of Christ. The Thessalonians had embraced the idea that Paul had taught that "the day of Christ was at hand", that Christ's coming was about to occur. This error is corrected (2:1-12), and the apostle announces what first must take place before the end times. The "Great Apostasy" is first mentioned here.

A passage from this book reading "For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat", (2 Thess. 3:10), was later adapted by Vladimir Lenin as an adage of the Soviet Union, He who does not work, neither shall he eat.

Background

“Sometime after the first letter was sent, probably soon, a new situation arose which called for correction. There had arisen in the Thessalonian church the rumor, or teaching, that the day of the Lord, for which they had been instructed to be in readiness, had arrived. … “This second letter is written primarily to deal with this matter.” (TIB 1955, p. 251)

“It appears that the person who carried the first epistle, returned speedily to Corinth, and gave the apostle a particular account of the state of the Thessalonian church; and, among other things, informed him that many were in expectation of the speedy arrival of the day of judgment; and that they inferred from his epistle already sent … that it was to take place while the apostle and themselves should be yet alive. And it appears probable, from some parts of this epistle, that he was informed also that some, expecting this sudden appearance of the Lord Jesus, had given up all their secular concerns as inconsistent with a due preparation for such an important and awful event… To correct such a misapprehension, and redeem them from an error, which, if appearing to rest on the authority of an apostle, must, in its issue be ruinous to the cause of Christianity, St. Paul would feel himself constrained to write immediately; and this is a sufficient reason why these epistles should appear to have been written at so short a distance from each other. … “As there have been some eminent historian writers who have entertained the same opinion with those at Thessalonica, that not only St. Paul, but other apostles of Christ, [and Jesus himself] did believe that the day of general judgment should take place in their time,” [emphasis mine] “which opinion is shown, by the event, to be absolutely false; it appears to be a matter of the utmost consequence to the credit of divine revelation, to rescue the character of the apostles [and Jesus] from such an imputation. Dr. Macknight has written well on this subject, as the following extract from his prefaced to this epistle will prove:

“‘Grotius, Locke, and others,’ says he, ‘have affirmed, that the apostles believed that the end of the world was to happen in their time; and that they have declared this to be their belief in various passages of their epistles. But these leaned men, and all who joined them in that opinion, have fallen into a most pernicious error; for, thereby they destroy the authority of the gospel revelation, at least so far as it is contained in the discourses and writings of the apostles; because, if they have erred in a matter of such importance, and which they affirm was revealed to them by Christ, they may have been mistaken in other matters also, where their inspiration is not more strongly asserted by them than in this instance. It is therefore necessary to clear them from so injurious an imputation. … ‘… the epistle under our consideration affords the clearest proof that these men knew the truth concerning the coming of Christ to judge the world; for in it they expressly assured the Thessalonians, that the persons who made them believe the day of judgment was at hand, were deceiving them; that, before the day of judgment, there was to be a great apostasy in religion, occasioned by the man of sin, who at that time was retrained from showing himself, but who was to be revealed in his season; that, when revealed, he will sit, that is, remain a long time in the church of God, as God, and showing himself that he is God; and that, afterward he is to be destroyed. Now, as these events could not be accomplished in the course of a few years, the persons who foretold they were to happen before the coming of Christ, certainly did not think the day of judgment would be in their life time. Besides, St. Paul, … by a long chain of reasoning, having showed that, after the general conversion of the Gentiles, the Jews, in a body, are to be brought into the Christian church; can any person be so absurd as to persevere in maintaining that this apostle believed in the end of the world would happen in his lifetime?’” (Clarke 1831, pp. 531-532)

Text

Chapter One

“4. … we boast of you in the assemblies of God: of your faith and patience through all the persecutions and the tribulations and the transgressions against you, 5. which are a sign of God’s righteous judgment, that you be found worthy of the Kingdom of God, for which you also forbear.”

Just as the failure of the heavenly hosts to arrive in Jesus’ day led to the temporary dispersion of his followers, the perousia’s delay past the lifetimes of some of its followers created the crisis addressed in I Thessalonians. By the time of II Thessalonians the gospel of imminent Kingdom of God, for which every believer was warned to prepare by turning away from all earthy distractions in preparation, was being amended to emphasize the intrinsic value of life and even death in that state of preparedness, and the Kingdom of God itself relegated to the sweet bye and bye. So patience becomes an essential virtue.

“6. Is it not just in God’s eyes to recompense affliction to your persecutors, 7. and to give you, the persecuted, respite together with us when the Lord Jesus appears from the heavens with his angelic forces 8. to return vengeance in a tongue of fire to those who do not know the God, and to those who do not listen to the gospel of our lord Jesus? 9. Punishment of eternal destruction before the lord and his glorious might will fall upon these.”

Some find this controversial, seeing it as an attempt to succor wavering Christians with the prospect of revenge. Jesus, who wept over the fate of Jerusalem and whose last recorded words were forgiving, is presented here as a harbinger of vengeance on those who persecute Christians, the ignorant, and the unpersuaded.

“Vengeance is mentioned by Paul only here and in two other passages (Rom. [Romans] 12:19; II Cor. [Corinthians] 7:11); Romans joins with Heb. 10:30 in quoting from Deut. 32:35; the verb is also used by Paul in two passages (Rom. 12:19; II Cor. 10:6). … Destruction is a Pauline word (I Thess. 5:3; I Cor. 5:5; cf. I Tim. [Timothy] 6:9). … The Greek word used here for destruction (ολεθρος – [olethros]) prevailingly carries a literal idea in the classical Greek, as distinguished from the word more common in the N.T. [New Testament] (απωλεια – [apoleia]), which has a more ethical connotation. The conception of exclusion from the presence of the Lord is a part of Paul’s inheritance from the religion of his fathers and is expressed in language reminiscent of the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah (e.g., Isa. 2:10, 19, 21; 66:4, 15; Jer. 10:25).

“The accompaniments of the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven are derived in part from the apocalyptic literature of Judaism, and belong with the inherited thinking of the apostle. The O.T. [Old Testament] speaks of the manifestation of God in fire … Dan. [Daniel] 10:2-9 is especially valuable as background to this passage (cf. also the vivid description of the glorified Lord in Rev. [Revelation] 1:13-16). The mighty angels or ‘angels of his power,’ the flaming fire, the glory of his might all belong to the tradition of Judaism. Frequently the language of quotation is employed in the N.T. more fully than the particular thought of the writer in a given passage requires. By this ‘drapery of language’ the major concept is set forth vividly, forcefully, and feelingly…” (TIB 1955, pp. 320-321)

“… for Paul, God’s condemnatory judgment, executed through the Lord Jesus (Rom 1:18-2:16), is conceived as a good thing, merited, not capriciously imposed… Pagans throughout the ages are considered culpably ignorant of not religiously acknowledging the Lord (Rom 1:18-32; Wis [Wisdom] 13:1-9).” (TNJBC 1990, p. 873)

Chapter Two

“3. Let no man deceive you by any means; he [Jesus] will not arrive before apostasy and the appearance of the man of unrighteousness, the son of destruction, 4. who rebels against and raises himself over all that is called Godly or holy, until he sits in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God.”

Some see these verses as the beginning of rationalizations to explain the continued withholding of the end of the world; no more are Christians to look for Jesus; they are to expect, instead, an anti-Christ.

“This section (and through vs. 12) has been the object of endless speculation and discussion. There are several radically differing schools of interpretation; and within each school individual interpreters reflect greatly differing opinions. In referring to this whole body of opinion F. W. Farrar … [1880]… speaks of ‘that vast limbo of exploded exegesis – the vastest and the weariest that human imagination has conceived.’ … the term [the man of lawlessness] appears here for the first time in any known writing, just as the term antichrist is first known in I John (2:18-19), where he is identified with certain teachers who had been associated with the Christian group but did not really belong with it (… on the general character of the apocalyptic pattern, many features of which appear in this paragraph, see Intro. to Revelation in vol. XII of this Commentary).

“The man of lawlessness … takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. If we observe that the singular God and not ‘gods’ is used … it must be evident that reference is being made to the temple of Israel in Jerusalem. The rebellion is in Greek αποστασια [apostasia], our word ‘apostasy.’ This term, with variant spelling, was used in classical Greek of a political revolt; and it has been suggested that the writers in this passage might be thinking of the revolt of the Jews from Rome.” (TIB 1955, pp. 326-327)

“Who is the lawless one? … Paul … is not thinking simply of principles; personages are involved. It is equally certain that all who think of Paul as pointing to some modern historical figure or institution, as, e.g., the papacy or Mussolini or Hitler or Stalin, are deplorably astray. … The thought here must be understood in terms of essentially contemporary figures and affairs.” (TIB 1955, p. 329)

“5. Do you not remember that when I still with you I told you these things? 6. You know what delays him [Jesus] until he appears in his own time, 7. that the secret of the wicked one is at work; the delayer continues until he [Jesus] emerges, 8. then the wicked one will be revealed, whom the lord kills in the spirit of his mouth, and finishes off, at his appearance, 9. the sign of one whose coming is the work of the Satan, full of all power in signs and in falsehoods 10. and in all deceitful wickedness for those designated sons of destruction.”

“The apocalypses of Baruch and II Esdras deal with the future and final destiny of the Jews under Roman tyranny. The Revelation of John deals with the same problem, set in the same frame, for Christians suffering persecution … “the evidence is ample that the conceptions of Daniel (9:27; 11:36-37; 12:11) passed into the thinking of Judaism (see especially II Esdras 12:11-12) and became a part of the heritage of Paul. It is also evident that early Christian tradition reported such thinking to be characteristic of Jesus (see especially Matt. 24:15; Mar 14:14). With this early Christian tradition Paul was familiar. Also, about a dozen years before the writing of II Thessalonians Caligula (A.D. 39 or 40) had tried to have his statue set up in the temple in Jerusalem as an object of worship (Josephus Antiquities XVIII. 8. 2-6; Jewish War II. 10. 1-5). It is almost certain that the horror of Daniel at Antiochus Epiphanes and the horror of the Jews at the attempted blasphemy of Caligula gave background and color to the thinking of the apostle. The man of lawlessness would be a personal figure who would have all the characteristics of these two historical figures who had sought to destroy or desecrate the holy of holies in Judaism. Paul as a Christian still held the basic convictions and emotions which were his as one zealous for the traditions of this fathers (Gal. [Galatians] 1:14). As he looked toward the future consummation, he followed the pattern of both his Judaism and primitive Christian thinking. Whether he precisely identified these figures is doubtful. If he did so, it is certain that we are not in position to recover what he said or thought.” (TIB 1955, pp. 329-330)

“The reader will have observed, that in going through this chapter, while examining the import of every leading word, I have avoided fixing any specific meaning to terms: the apostasy, or falling away; the man of sin; son of perdition; him who letteth or withholdeth, &c. The reason is, I have found it extremely difficult to fix any sense to my own satisfaction: and it was natural for me to think that, if I could not satisfy myself, it was not likely I could satisfy my readers…” (Clarke 1831, p. 541)

Resorting in dismay even to TIB’s exposition in re: 1:8, I found this in re: 2:8:

“With such a fabulous figure of evil, and with such a lack of specific identity and time of arrival, is it any wonder that so many zealots and theorists, as well as others of sober mind, have made this prophecy of Paul a three-ringed circus on the tanbark of which they have disported themselves in terms of their own particular interpretations? As dwellers in the twentieth century, with its deliverance from much theological ignorance and medieval superstition, we feel superior to any such conception of anti-christ as possessed Paul and the Thessalonians. But let not our sophistication blind us to the truth at the core of this prophecy – there are antichrists in our present world: forces of evil, concentrated, intelligent, determined, and deadly, opposing God and everything he represents in life. Here are but three of them: (a) War with its scientific capacity for the destruction of the body, the mind, the faith, the ideals, the savings, the homes, the places of employment, the culture, and the future. This is a raging, foaming, mighty antichrist. (b) The secular mind. … Its results are already tasting bitter in our mouths – the loss of Sunday, with its opportunities for public worship and religious education; the breakdown of law and order; the increase in divorce and separation, with consequent collapse of home life, etc. (c) Racialism, manifested in the United States in two forms: (i) Anti-Semitism: the scandal of history, which has broken out with new violence, so that the lot of Israel is once more groans and tears, the wandering foot, and the weary breast. This black infection is virulent in American life. (ii) Anti Negroism. This is racialism’s main expression in our land. It is not a simple problem to solve and will take both time and wisdom. But the blunt fact is that the Negro is now sharply aroused to the anomaly of being asked to give, work, fight, and die for democracy in all parts of the globe, yet being denied participation in it at home. We brought him here, enslaved and released him, and since have been exploiting him. In parts of his own country he is denied sleep in our hotels, food in our restaurants, education in our universities, work in our factories, residence in our districts, recreation at our beaches and resorts, membership in our unions and churches, justice in our courts, healing in our hospitals, and enfranchisement at our polls. But these antichrists will our Lord Jesus destroy. Our cry is, ‘How long, O Lord, how long?’” (TIB 1955, pp. 327-331)

“16. And he, our lord Jesus the Anointed, and God our father, who loved us and in his mercy gave us eternal comfort and good hope [παρακαλησιν αιωνιαν και ελπιδα αγαθην – parakalesin aionian kai elpida agathen]”

“… used by the mystery religions for bliss after death” (TNJBC 1990, p. 874)

“17. He will comfort your heart and support you in every word or good deed”

“It is not enough that we believe the truth; we must live the truth. Antinomianism says ‘Believe the doctrines and ye are safe’ …” (Clarke 1831, p. 541)

Chapter Three

“6. We command you, brethren, in the name of the lord Jesus the Anointed, to separate from every brother who goes astray [ατακτως – ataktos out of rank], and who does not conduct himself according to the traditions which you received from us.”

These uses of the word “tradition” also point to an interval beyond that between two early, successive letters, if not to a time when the whole corpus of Paul’s letters had attained that status.

“11. For we have heard that there are disorderlies [Ατακτως - Ataktos] among you, who do not work at all [μηδεν εργαζομενους - meden ergazomenous], but busy themselves with uselessness [περιεργαζομενουςperiergazomenous].”

“… impertinent meddlers with other people’s business: prying into other people’s circumstances, and domestic affairs; magnifying, or minifying; mistaking, or underrating every thing; newsmongers and tell tales: an abominable race, the curse of every neighbourhood where they live; and a pest to religious society. There is a fine paronomasia [pun] in the above words, and evidently intended by the apostle.” (Clarke 1831, p. 548)

“Probably there is an element of truth in the suggestion, frequently made, that expectation concerning the early coming of the Lord had led these ‘loafers’ into idleness and meddlesome living.” (TIB 1955, p. 337)

… “13. And you, brethren, let not your hands weary of doing the good.”

“While ye stretch out no hand of relief to the indolent and lazy, do not forget the real poor; the genuine representatives of an empoverished Christ; and rather relieve a hundred undeserving objects than pass by one who is a real object of charity.” (Clarke 1831, pp. 548-549)

See also

Notes

TIB = The Interpreter’s Bible, The Holy Scriptures in the King James and Revised Standard versions with general articles and introduction, exegesis, [and] exposition for each book of the Bible in twelve volumes, George Arthur Buttrick, Commentary Editor, Walter Russell Bowie, Associate Editor of Exposition, Paul Scherer, Associate Editor of Exposition, John Knox Associate Editor of New Testament Introduction and Exegesis, Samuel Terrien, Associate Editor of Old Testament Introduction and Exegesis, Nolan B. Harmon Editor, Abingdon Press, copyright 1955 by Pierce and Washabaugh, set up printed, and bound by the Parthenon Press, at Nashville, Tennessee, Volume XI, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians [Introduction and Exegesis by John W. Bailey], Pastoral Epistles [The First and Second Epistles to Timothy, and the Epistle to Titus] , Philemon, Hebrews TNJBC = The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Edited by Raymond E. Brown, S.S., Union Theological Seminary, New York; NY, Raymond f. Collins [First Thessalonians]; Roland E. Murphy, O. Carm. (emeritus) The Divinity School, Duke University, Durham, NC, with a foreword by His Eminence Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini, S.J.; Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1990

A.C. = The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The text carefully printed from the most correct copies of the present Authorized Version. Including the marginal readings and parallel texts. With a Commentary and Critical Notes. Designed as a help to a better understanding of the sacred writings. By Adam Clarke, LL.D. F.S.A. M.R.I.A. With a complete alphabetical index. Royal Octavo Stereotype Edition. Vol. II. [Volume VI when sold together with the Old Testament volumes] New York, Published by J. Emory and B. Waugh, for the Methodist Episcopal Church, at the conference office, 13 Crosby-Street. J. Collord, Printer. 1831.

References

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