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First Thessalonians: Introduction-Authorship and Recipients Lesson # 2

First Thessalonians  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  1:31:27
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First Thessalonians: Introduction-Authorship and Recipients

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First Thessalonians is almost universally accepted as being penned by the apostle Paul because first of all, Paul identifies himself as the author of the epistle (1:1).
Secondly, its style is Pauline and thirdly, Paul is identified as the author of First Thessalonians in early Christian writings such as the lists of New Testament books which was compiled by Marcion in the first half of the second century A.D.
Also, the Muratorian Canon lists First Thessalonians as part of the Pauline corpus.
Since Paul lists Silvanus and Timothy here in the greeting of the epistle in 1 Thessalonians 1:1, many expositors and scholars have concluded that Silvanus and Timothy took part in the writing of this epistle and were thus co-senders.
However, others dissent asserting that Paul is the sole author of this epistle and that the plurals in this epistle should be interpreted as being used “literarily” rather than “literally.”
This raises two questions: (1) What role, if any, did Silvanus and Timothy play in the writing of this letter? (2) If Paul is the true author of the letter, why did he present Silvanus and Timothy as cosenders?
It is my view that Silvanus and Timothy are not co-senders and that Paul is the true author of this epistle, which is indicated by the fact that three times in 1 Thessalonians, the text shifts significantly to the first-person singular (cf. 1 Thess. 2:18, 3:5 and 5:27).
It is my view that these two men are included by Paul in the greeting as cosenders because they played a significant role in ministering to the Thessalonian Christian community.
Acts 17:1-9 reveals that Silvanus played a key role in establishing this community with Paul.
Timothy is identified as a cosenders here in 1 Thessalonians 1:1 because 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5 reveals that he was instrumental in strengthening the Thessalonian Christian community.
The recipients of First Thessalonians were new converts to Christianity who lived in the city of Thessalonica (cf. 1 Thess. 1:1).
Acts 17:1-10 records Paul establishing the church in this city and reveals that Paul, Silas and Timothy planted the church at Thessalonica during Paul’s second missionary journey.
He found at Thessalonica a synagogue of the Jews, in which for three successive Sabbaths he preached the gospel, basing his message upon the types and prophecies of the Old Testament Scriptures (vs 2,3).
Some of the Jews became converts and a considerable number of proselytes and Greeks, together with many women of high social standing (verse 4).
Among these converts were in all probability Aristarchus and Secundus, natives of Thessalonica, whom we afterward find accompanying Paul to Asia at the close of his third missionary journey (Acts 20:4).
The recipients of First Thessalonians were new converts to Christianity who lived in the city of Thessalonica (cf. 1 Thess. 1:1).
Acts 17:1-10 records Paul establishing the church in this city.
This passage reveals that Paul taught in the Jewish synagogue in Thessalonica.
Consequently, “some of the Jews” and a “large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women” were converted.
This passage teaches that eventually Paul and Silas had to leave Thessalonica because the Jews were jealous and incited the populace to turn against them.
This text would indicate that the church in Thessalonica was primarily Jewish.
However, this passage does not tell the entire story.
Undoubtedly, as the text says, the Jews were jealous of this response by their fellow Jews to Paul’s gospel.
However, 1 Thessalonians 2:14 would indicate that they were also jealous of the Gentiles in this city trusting Jesus Christ as their Savior.
This verse records Paul telling the Thessalonians that they became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea.
Then, he says that they suffered the same things from their own countrymen as the saved Jews in Judea did from their own countrymen!
Notice the distinction Paul makes between the Thessalonians suffering persecution at the hands of their own countrymen and the Jewish believers suffering at the hands of their fellow Jewish countrymen.
This makes clear that the Thessalonians were primarily Gentile.
Thus, the Jews in Thessalonica would have also been jealous of the Gentiles in this city responding favorably to Paul’s gospel.
Indeed, Paul teaches in Romans 11:13-14 that he magnifies his ministry to the Gentiles in order to make his fellow Jewish countrymen jealous and thus save some of them.
Another clear indication that Thessalonian Christian community was in fact primarily Gentile rather than Jewish is Paul’s statement in 1 Thessalonians 1:9, which records Paul asserting that the Thessalonians turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.
The Jewish people were no longer practicing idolatry upon their return from Babylon in the fifth century B.C.
The gospels make clear that the practice of idolatry was no longer found among the Jewish people.
However, the pagan Gentiles living in the first century A.D. were totally and completely immersed in the practice of idolatry.
Therefore, this statement in 1 Thessalonians 1:9 is a reference to the fact that Paul was writing to Gentile Christians.
Now, one of the major questions scholars raise with regards to First Thessalonians is the length of Paul’s original stay in the city.
Acts 17:2 reveals that he was there for three Sabbaths.
Thus, many believe he was only in this city for three weeks.
Nowhere in the text of Acts 17:1-9 is the length of Paul’s stay in Thessalonica identified.
All we can say is that Paul spent three weeks with the Jews.
That being, said, as noted above, the contents of First Thessalonians would indicate that Paul spent months in this city before his hasty departure because the recipients of this epistle are clearly identified as Gentiles rather than Jews.
The text of Acts 17:1-9 does not mention anywhere that Paul proclaimed the gospel to the Gentiles of this city, but First Thessalonians makes clear that he did do just that.
First, in 1 Thessalonians 2:9, Paul reminded the Thessalonians that he worked hard night and day to support himself as to not burden them financially while he proclaimed the gospel to them.
He echoes this in 2 Thessalonians 3:7-10.
These statements would indicate that Paul had settled down in Thessalonica long enough to pursue his secular trade as a tent-maker.
Secondly, 1 Thessalonians 2:9 reveals that Paul was familiar with the Thessalonians and the extent of his pastoral care for them, which would indicate a stay of longer than three weeks.
Thirdly, if Paul was only in Thessalonica three Sabbaths and only ministered to the Jews in this city, it is very unusual for First Thessalonians to contain no Old Testament quotations to support his apostolic teaching.
There is text which Paul alludes to in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 but no direct quotations.
This would indicate that the Thessalonians were predominately Gentile.
It would also indicate he stayed much longer than three weeks in Thessalonica since if three weeks was indeed the length of this stay, we would expect First Thessalonians to be sprinkled with quotes from the Old Testament.
There is also another reason why I believe that Paul’s stay in Thessalonica was months and not weeks.
The contents of First Thessalonians would indicate that although the Thessalonians were young Christians with less than a year of Christian experience, they were nevertheless familiar with the great doctrines of the Christian such as salvation, election, sanctification, assurance, the Trinity, the sinful nature of the human race, the resurrection and the day of the Lord.
Three weeks would not be enough time for Paul to instruct them in all these subjects when he was working a day job to support himself during his stay with them.
He would only be able to teach nights or maybe early in the morning.
Therefore, as he did in every city, Paul went to the Jews first in Thessalonica and then to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 13:46; 18:6; 19:8-9).
Acts 17:1-9 doesn’t explicitly state this but the contents of First Thessalonians make clear that he did just that.
A three-week ministry in Thessalonica is certainly not enough time to permit Paul to minister to the Gentile population of this city and who were the primary recipients of First Thessalonians.
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