Sunday, September 29, 2013

Thessalonica (Acts 17)

  • Paul was probably there a little more than three Sundays. In Philippians he notes they sent him material support more than once. Maybe a couple months?
  • Usual pattern is presented--go to synagogue, a few Jewish converts but more from God-fearers and non-Jewish women. Going from 1 Thessalonians, the make-up of the church ended up primarily Gentile (1 Thess. 1:9-10).
  • They presumably worshiped and stayed in the home of someone named Jason. They get in trouble for treason.  We can imagine that preaching "Jesus is Lord" was treasonous. Not surprising Paul often ended up in jail.
  • We know from the Damascus incident, comparing Paul's version with that of Acts, that Acts may be somewhat one-sided in its assignment of blame for Paul's troubles. Yes, non-believing Jews opposed Paul. But they were constantly in trouble with local authorities as well. It is the local authorities that interrogate Jason here, not Jews. (very interesting that no Jason is mentioned in 1 or 2 Thessalonians, by the way)  
  • My hunch is that Luke was making it clear to Theophilus and others that there was a reason God let the Jerusalem temple be destroyed.  I consider it beyond reasonable doubt that Luke-Acts was written after the destruction of Jerusalem, maybe around AD80.
1 Thessalonians
It is interesting when you look at 1 Thessalonians, sent back to Thessalonica perhaps from Corinth (or Athens). We get hints of Paul's version of recent events. They were forced to leave Thessalonica somewhat quickly (2:17). At Athens they had sent Timothy back to them to shore up their faith.

The letter of 1 Thessalonians was then in response to that visit. Timothy comes back to them (had they moved on to Corinth by then?), and Paul writes 1 Thessalonians as a substitute for his own presence.
  • What was Paul's early preaching like? We face the problem that Paul's letters mainly address the problems, not the common ground. That puts us in the ironic situation of seeing the eccentricities and having to work to see the essentials.
  • From 1 Corinthians 15, we can probably infer that the tradition of Christ's death and resurrection was central to his preaching. 1 Corinthians (e.g., 1:23) and Galatians (e.g., 6:14) corroborate that the cross stood at the center of his preaching. 
  • He apparently also focused on the wrath of God (e.g., 1:10; 2:16). Christ was soon going to return to judge the world (3:13; 5:23).
From these clues, we can get a good sense of what Paul had preached. You all have been worshiping the wrong gods.  The living God was the God of Israel. Because of the sins of the world, God is soon coming in judgment, to pour out his wrath on the whole world.

But he has also made a way to escape. In the mystery of God's wisdom, he has sacrificed the very king through whom he will judge the world. Those who are baptized in his name, will be saved from the coming wrath.
  • What is not mentioned here?  The resurrection!  Paul apparently did not make it clear while he was there that those who die will be part of the coming kingdom.
  • Sexual immorality was still sinful. Paul warns them that they must keep their sexual life pure. This certainly included adultery, but Paul assumes they know what he means.
  • Christ was going to return. That was no excuse to stop working. In fact, we should work harder.
2 Thessalonians
The second letter is more puzzling. We do not even know if it was written around the same time. It has some formal similarities to 1 Thessalonians. It has some content similarities (e.g., against laziness).

The tone of chapter 2 is what is puzzling. Although it is easy for us to read 2 Thessalonians 2 against current events, it is eye-opening to read it as a first century reader would have...

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