Lectionary Year A
November 10, 2002
I Thessalonians 4:13-18

Step III: Composition

A. Immediate Context

(JFC) Pre - The first 12 verses of I Thessalonians 4 find Paul congratulating them for learning from him how to live pleasing God and their doing it commendably. He speaks well of their disciplined passions and contrasts them to "the Gentiles who do not know God." Next he appeals to God's vengeance for disobedience and disrespect and reminds them that God calls them to holiness rather than to impurity. Then he acclaims their loving each other as God has taught them to do, including their loving all throughout Macedonia and calls them to do so more. Finally, there, he calls them to more properly, "to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, . ." Post - I Thessalonians 5 refers to the recipients as well informed beyond surprise concerning the pains of Christ's Second Coming and he expects them to continue living in the light of their enlightenment concerning these matters, in which he calls them to build up others. He charges them to respectful relationships and to peacemaking. After these instructions, he lists several more ways to take good care of others especially those in need and/or the less fortunate. His final greeting tells them to read this letter to all.

B. Organization of the Compositional Whole

(JFC) In the past, we have noted that the first chapter of this epistle gives a traditional greeting and repeatedly expresses gratitude for the peoples' work and faithfulness, as they had learned from Paul's being there and teaching them. Chapter 2 tells and retells of Paul's work while he was in Thessalonica founding the church there. Then chapter 3 tells of Timothy's mission and how the church there is to strengthen itself. Chapter 4 includes Paul's plea for the purity of family life, verses 1-8. Other ethical and moral topics as well as the importance of publicly showing and telling of Christian principles via obvious behavior are also addressed there, in the 4th chapter, too. Chapter 5 refers repeatedly to the delay of Christ's return and seeks to deal with some questions, re: death, resurrection and end time(s). Leander E. Keck, in The Interpreter's One Volume Commentary On The Bible, identifies "2 sections concern(ed) with the past work of Paul in Thessalonica (chs. 1-3) and the present issues in the church (chs. 4-5)." The Catholic Encyclopedia calls chapters 1 and 3 "personal" and chapters 4 and 5 "doctrinal". Its whole tone or even tendency seems to be full of compassion for the newly organized church that needs some careful guidance from its absent founder, Paul. He emphasizes his thanks for their faith. In addition, the letter is known for its eschatological emphases and its pastoral feelings.

C. Issues of Authorship

(JFC) As previously noted, commentaries agree, Paul is the author of I Thessalonians and it is one of the earliest written parts of the New Testament. He wrote from Corinth in about 50 CE. Paul had been in Thessalonica, Acts 17:1-9 tells us. There Paul preached in the synagogue & converted some Jews by explaining to them using the scriptures with which they were familiar and the necessities of Christ's suffering and death. Of them, we read in Harper's Bible Commentary, "Thessalonica was one of the two most important trading centers in Roman Greece. . . Although it was the Roman capital of Macedonia, Thessalonica remained a free Greek city with its own council . . ." Some there objected to his proclaiming Christ as the Messiah. They interpreted his statements as declaring "another King, Christ", one other than Caesar. Some of Paul's gentile converts helped him & his company leave there to avoid more of what Keck calls, "civil disturbances".

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