Archeology 2 Thessalonians
AUTHOR, PLACE AND DATE OF WRITING
Although this letter declares itself to be from Paul and fits perfectly well as a sequel to 1 Thessalonians, many scholars have been skeptical about its authenticity. The letter's vocabulary and style have been subjected to minute analysis, but statistics in this regard are of dubious value for so short a letter. Idiosyncrasies in its style, though real, are not substantial enough to overthrow Pauline authorship, and there are many similarities between the two letters. Another argument is that the eschatology of 2 Thessalonians differs from that of Paul's earlier epistle to this congregation. While 2 Thessalonians implies that the coming of the Lord will be preceded by an observable event—the appearance of the "man of lawlessness" (2Th 2:3)—the argument goes, 1 Thessalonians teaches that Christ's return will be sudden and unexpected (1 Th 5:1-4). In fact, however, 1 Thessalonians 5 indicates that the end will be unanticipated by unbelievers, but not by believers. Both letters are brief responses to problems among the Thessalonians, and the two should not be set against each other.
It appears that 2 Thessalonians was written soon after 1 Thessalonians, probably after Paul had received a response to his first let-ter. Thus, 2 Thessalonians was likely written from Corinth in about A.D. 51-52.
Paul wrote to the new believers in Thessalonica, a major military and commercial port located along the Egnatian Way.
CULTURAL FACTS AND HIGHLIGHTS
Second Thessalonians was clearly a response to ongoing issues among the Thessalonians. On the one hand, these believers were enduring in the faith despite persecution (2Th 1:4). On the other, some had become frantic about the return of the Lord (ch. 2), while others had taken to living off the largesse of their fellow believers (3:6-15). Paul wanted to set the record straight.
AS YOU READ
Note Paul's words of encouragement to those experiencing persecution and his concern for the Thessalonians as expressed in his prayers. What lessons can be learned about perseverance in suffering? Make a list of the truths set forth by Paul concerning the end times and Christ's second coming.
DID YOU KNOW?
Second Thessalonians includes the following themes:
1. Christ's return. Some of the Thessalonians had developed an unhealthy anxiety about Christ's return and had been duped by those who claimed this event had already occurred (2:2). Paul stated that Christ's coming will be preceded by the arrival of an antichrist figure, who will unleash a season of unprecedented hostility to God, incite widespread rebellion and delude many through satanic signs and wonders. He will be a self-deifying figure who will exalt himself over other deities, seek to destroy Christ's work and beguile those who are perishing (2:4-12).
2. Vigilance until Christ's return. Paul reminded this church that it had been chosen for salvation through sanctification by God and that it must stand firm to the end (2:13-17). Since God is the One who will inflict vengeance on those who afflict the faithful, Christians are to wait patiently and faithfully for Christ's return. Watchfulness is expressed by diligent work for Christ.
II. Instruction Regarding Jesus' Coming and Christian Conduct (2)
III. Request for Prayer and Warning Against Idleness (3:1-15)
IV. Final Greetings and Benediction (3:16-18)
2 THESSALONIANS 3 In the ancient world there were three classes of laborers: freemen, slaves and a middle group, serfs, who were bound to work the soil or to perform other menial tasks on behalf of some state or institution. Slaves and serfs naturally labored under the direction of their overlords,' but freemen were obliged to find means of providing for themselves. Most men learned their trade from their fathers, just as most wo-men acquired domestic skills from their mothers.
The varieties of occupations an individual might follow in-volved both skilled and unskilled labor. Jesus' parable of the unjust steward (Lk 16:1-9) illustrates two extremes: stewards (educated people who managed the financial affairs of others) and those who dug ditches or even begged. A remarkable Egyptian document called Dua-Khety, or "The Satire on the Trades," lists a wide variety of possible occupations:jewelers, carpenters, barbers, smiths, potters, agricultural workers, couriers, cobblers and others. Any and all of these jobs, this text asserts, were miserable occupations in comparison with the work of the scribe.,
The rise of the Roman Empire also gave rise to a class of citizens that to some degree lived off the public dole: During the period of the Roman Republic, politicians sought to gain the votes of the masses by periodically giving people a supply of grain, either freely or at a greatly reduced price. C. Sempronius Gracchus (d.122 B.c.) made this a regular feature of Roman life by establishing a monthly ration of grain at a set price. In 58 B.c. P. Clodius Pulcher made this ration free. At the beginning of the empire, Augustus reorganized the system of public dole, instituting the tradition of providing "bread and circuses" for the masses.4
Apart from the state welfare system for the Romans, Christians were encouraged to donate freely to the poor, especially to fellow believers in need. Such generosity could be—and invariably was—abused. Already in 2 Thessalonians 3 Paul found it necessary to rebuke those who were content to live off the charity of other Christians, confronting them with the maxim,"If a man will not work, he shall not eat" (v. 10). In 1 Timothy 5:3-15 Paul provided guidelines for providing assistance to widows who were indeed needy, in contrast to those who should not have been living off the beneficence of the churches. Brought up in the Jewish tradition in which every son learned a trade, Paul supported himself as a tentmaker (Ac 18:2 —3),and he expected other Christians to work for their livings as well.