The letter to the Thessalonians (2)
Who is the Author?
The letter begins similarly to 1 Thessalonians “Paul, Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”
This address is declaring from whom it is from, Paul being the first and then naming two companions who are occasionally with Paul (Also to note Silvanus is an alternative spelling of Silas often).
The Church Fathers support Pauline authorship even more for 2 Thessalonians, than they do for 1 Thessalonians. Thomas, R. L writes,
“Possible references to it are found in the Didache and Ignatius, and Polycarp has two passages that are almost assuredly from the Epistle. Justin Martyr also clearly refers to it.”Thomas, R. L
Thomas, R. L. (1981). 2 Thessalonians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 302). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House
Muratorian fragment (170 AD)
So while there are uses of Thessalonians early on and throughout the church father era, the Muratorian Fragment was also written. This document dating to the late second century gives us Paul’s stamp of the letters he has written according to early church tradition. We see here it affirms Paul’s authorship: “As for the Epistles of (40-1) Paul, they themselves make clear to those desiring to understand, which ones [they are], from what place, or for what reason they were sent. (42) …Paul himself, following the example of his predecessor (49-50) John, writes by name to only seven churches in the following sequence: To the Corinthians (51) first, to the Ephesians second, to the Philippians third, (52) to the Colossians fourth, to the Galatians fifth, (53) to the Thessalonians sixth, to the Romans (54-5) It is true that he writes once more to the Corinthians and to the Thessalonians for the sake of admonition, (56-7)
The authenticity of this epistle is still in widespread dispute. As Professor Ernest Best, New Testament scholar, explains the problem;
if we only possessed Second Thessalonians few scholars would doubt that Paul wrote it; but when Second Thessalonians is put alongside First Thessalonians then doubts appear. There is a great dissimilarity between the two; this is not only one of words, small phrases and concepts but extends to the total structure of the two letters which is in addition different from what is taken to be the standard Pauline form. At the same time the second letter is alleged to be less intimate and personal in tone than the first, and in some of its teaching, particularly in relation to eschatology, to conflict with the first. [Ernest Best, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians (New York: Harper and Row, 1972), p. 37]
There are mainly five arguments that are often used against authenticity—arguments which critics state will overturn the external evidence.
See Bible.org for full article by Daniel Wallace
The Lord’s return seems less imminent in the second letter as compared to the first. 1. certain signs appear to precede the Lord’s return here, while none did in 1 Thessalonians; 2. Paul doesn’t include himself in the group of living saints who await the Lord’s return, while he was mentions in the first Pauline letter.
B. Linguistic Features.
Some have argued the linguistic features of this letter show too much deviation from Paul’s normal style.
C. Change of Tone.
This letter seems more formal than 1 Thessalonians and the author presents himself as more distant (1 Thess 1:2 with 2 Thess 1:3; 2:13; also 2 Thess 3:6, 12).
The readers of this letter are assumed to have a greater informative knowledge of the Old Testament than what Gentiles would be likely to know, and definitely more than what is expected of the audience in the first letter.
The letter is remarkably similar to the first letter (e.g., eschatological theme, linguistic features, and probable date). So why would Paul write twice to the same audience within a short span of time about the same topic?
Arguments for reliability (response)
Now turning to responses to each of the five main arguments.
If the Lord’s return doesn’t seem as impending in the second letter as it does in the first, there is good reason for that: the enemies of Paul had turned the hope of the Thessalonians into dread (2:1-3). Paul now wanted to calm their fears and help them to focus on other areas related to the eschaton. Regardless, a careful distinction needs to be made between the imminence of the day of the Lord with reference to unbelievers in 1 Thess 5 and its imminence with reference to believers in 2 Thess 2.
With reference to unbelievers, it will come “suddenly,” without warning. With reference to believers, there is firm basis for arguing that the rapture will take place first. The language of 2 Thess 2:1-12 suggests that 1. the day of the Lord will not come until the man of lawlessness is first revealed (2:3); and 2. he will not be revealed until “the restrainer” is first removed. The language is necessarily cryptic as Paul wants to remind his audience of different things he taught them when in Thessalonica without his enemies being privy to the contents of that teaching ( “you know” in 2:6; “do you not remember” in 2:5). But if the “restrainer” is a reference to the Holy Spirit, then this cryptic language may well mean, simply, the day of the Lord will not begin until the rapture first takes place. That Paul did not come out and say this explicitly is understandable given the circumstances of why he had to write this letter.
As well as this, it is not completely true that Paul does not place himself with those “who are alive and remain at the Lord’s coming” as he does mention that God will “grant rest to you with us” (2 Thess 1:7), and Paul does mention “our gathering together with him” (2:1). Although these are not major emphases, there is nothing here which suggests that Paul would not be among the living at the time of the rapture. This was still his hope he had.
B. Linguistic Features.
Although some have recently argued for linguistic dissimilarity, most NT scholars see almost too much similarity with 1 Thessalonians! this criterion should be called into question on four grounds: 1. the amount of material in this short letter is not sufficient to make bold dogmatic statements about linguistic patterns 2. the altered tone certainly has an impact on writing style (does a happy, sad, encouragement or angry letter sound the same usually?); 3. the cryptic nature of the “little apocalypse” (2:1-12; cf. also 1:3-12)—necessary due to the occasion of the letter—has a tremendous impact on vocabulary; and 4. all such linguistic conclusions are largely irrelevant if the amanuensis for 2 Thessalonians were either different than the one for the first letter or had greater freedom than he did in the first letter.
C. Change of Tone.
The change of tone is like due to 1. the shock on Paul’s part that his audience had “so quickly shaken” from their joyous position related to the Lord’s return; and (2) the necessarily cryptic nature of the letter in which the enemies could be kept at arm’s length. In short, the circumstances for writing are different and Paul’s mood is different. The detection of tonal alterations is overly sceptical and hardly worth mentioning in the first place.
1. there are no allusions which Gentiles who had frequented the synagogue (Acts 17:1-10) could not appreciate; 2. Paul must now use eschatological terms and imagery both because he had taught them this (2:5, 6) and because he wanted to keep his enemies at bay; and 3. it must be remembered that even the Old Testament allusions could be grasped by the leaders of this congregation since they were, most likely, Jews themselves.
That there are similarities in content and date is hardly an argument against authenticity (linguistic similarity, in fact, supports authenticity). This can be seen by the simple fact that a particular occasion arose in which Paul needed to address the Thessalonians very soon after his first letter—on the very topic which his enemies had distorted.
For example, between 1 and 2 Corinthians there was another letter written—one which deals with roughly the same content as is found in the canonical letters (the basis of Paul’s authority and his relation to the audience). That 2 Thessalonians—as a letter so soon written after 1 Thessalonians—has been preserved for us is a fortuitous and unique situation; but that Paul might write something to the same audience on the same topic within a very short period of time (although no longer extant) is hardly out of character. So an unnecessary allegation.
2 Thessalonians has good external and internal credentials. It is similar and unique to the first letter and has been preserved for the good of the church. The internal arguments are baseless. I give credit to Dan Wallace as I have referenced the majority of this scholarly response from his article in the below source.
Manuscript evidence for Paul’s authorship P92, P30
2 Thessalonians 1:4-5, 11-12 from Papyrus 92.
Though more fragmentary than 1 Thessalonians, the manuscripts we have in papyrus 92 (1:4-5, 11-12 and papyrus 30 (1:1-2).
The manuscript evidence we have gives witness to verse 1 of 2 Thessalonians which we know mentions Paul, Silvanus and Timothy. To have even a partial of this verse is incredible. Considering how papyrus can deteriorate within a few hundred years, this is truly remarkable fortune and an incredible witness to Paul’s authorship as far away as southern Egypt.
Paul was a writer/composer
Here church fathers make reference to Paul passing on commands or writing letters (with or without a scribe, likely with a scribe for all of them?). It is an additional factor for all Paul’s epistles that he was known as someone who wrote, taught truth and passed on commands, given an authority the first disciples did not possess. See two references below to this.
Ignatius wrote to the Romans ca. 105-107 AD: “I may be found a sacrifice to God. I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles of Jesus Christ, but I am the very least [of believers]: they were free,”
Polycarp in his letter to the Philippians ca. 115 AD: “For neither I, nor any other such one, can come up to the wisdom of the blessed and glorified Paul. He, when among you, accurately and steadfastly taught the word of truth in the presence of those who were then alive. And when absent from you, he wrote you a letter,”
Peter endorses Paul’s writings
If 2 Peter is written in the first century (though sceptical scholars have been known to attribute it to someone in the second century) this passage would bear the mark that Peter endorses Paul writing letters also
“Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”2 Peter 3:15-17
Audience & purpose
The apostle Paul, in concern for the Thessalonian believers who were trying to stand firm in their faith under pressure from false teachers, taught the Thessalonians in this letter that their hope in Christ’s future return should serve as an encouragement to them in their suffering, motivating them to live responsibly for Him. Paul always connected his teaching on Jesus with the practical growth he expected to see as a result of such a deeply held faith.
Emperor Claudius wrote a letter that mentions Gallio as the proconsul of Achaia. The Delphi Inscription (which reproduces this letter) dates the letter to AD 52. Since proconsuls took office in July, this would begin Gallio’s service in July of AD 52.
Paul spent 18-20 months in Corinth (Acts 18:11, 18), and he left around AD 51-52. So the letter must’ve been written before then. Paul apparently wrote the letter after Timothy and Silas met him in Corinth to deliver news about Thessalonica (Acts 18:5; 1 Thess. 3:6). Based on this evidence, most scholars date the letter to either AD 50 or 51. These would include renowned scholars such as F.F. Bruce, Craig Blomberg, and Robert Thomas.[
Silas Accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey (49-51 A.D.). Timothy also joined the second missionary journey early on (Acts 16:1). However, Silas apparently did not accompany Paul on the third missionary journey, and this trio (Paul, Silas, Timothy) are not mentioned together again. Therefore, the greeting appears to come from the trio some time during their second missionary journey. This would be after they visited Thessalonica and established a church there (Acts 17:1-4). This allows only a very small time window for the letters to be written – from 50 to 51 A.D. This dating of 1 Thessalonians has been widely accepted by scholars of all persuasions with little dissent. For 2 Thessalonians, this date is also generally acknowledged, though as said earlier, there is resistance from some scholars.
Bruce, F. F. (1998). 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Vol. 45, p. xxi). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.
Blomberg, Craig. From Pentecost to Patmos: an Introduction to Acts through Revelation. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2006. 140.
Thomas, R. L. (1981). 1 Thessalonians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 232). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
What was the acceptance rate of 2 Thessalonians as canonical by those early and later witnesses of the text? Polycarp uses the letter very early on and heretics like Marcion used it in his canon (albeit a mutilated 2 Thessalonians). Generally there is a strong church acknowledgement of the letter to the Thessalonians as canonical in the eyes of the church fathers.
See this table for a list on who recognised each book as canonical (key(s) below)
It does not mention every Church Father who used the New Testament books, this is just a survey of some of the most known
- Ig = Ignatius
- Po = Polycarp
- M = Marcion
- Va = Valentinus
- JM = Justin Martyr
- IR = Irenaeus
- C = Clement of Alexandria
- T = Tertullian
- MC = Muratorian Canon
- O = Origen
- E = Eusebius
- CS = Codex Sinaiticus
- A = Athanasius
- D = Didymus the Blind
- P = Peshitta (Bible of the Syrian church)
- V = Latin vulgate
taken from ntcanon.org/table.shtml
Jesus, nor the apostles, nor Polycarp, Clement or Irenaeus left much for us to work with in terms of a formal “ok so here’s the rules of determination”. But what they did do is inform us that they had an informative way of knowing what was truth and what was not. And the truth had to have a connection to eyewitnesses.
For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.2 Peter 1:16
2“So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus— from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrectionActs 1:21-22
One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out. (This report is from an eyewitness giving an accurate account. He speaks the truth so that you also may continue to believe.)John 19:34-35
“God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this.Acts 2:32
You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. And we are witnesses of this fact!Acts 3:15
We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.”Acts 5:32
“And we apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a cross,but God raised him to life on the third day. Then God allowed him to appear, not to the general public, but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be his witnesses. We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.”Acts 10:39-43
[Paul] With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it.Romans 9:1
I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.1 Corinthians 15:3-9
And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you:1 Peter 5:1
Caius the church father in 200AD writes how they knew of two fake letters circulating in Paul’s name.
“There are also in circulation one to the Laodiceans, and another to the Alexandrians, forged under the name of Paul, and addressed against the heresy of Marcion; and there are also several others which cannot be received into the Catholic Church, for it is not suitable for gall to be mingled with honey”.Caius, Church leader
How did they work this out? How did they know what was the divinely inspired word of God? We can thank Eusebius for beginning to help us clear up this territory. In his Ecclesiastical History, he mentions his four categories of books with descriptions as to why some were accepted, disputed, rejected and seen as heretical from his survey of the church fathers history going back and into the apostolic age. This is the structure we will take when we assess the books of the New Testament and this includes investigating the books the church rejected.
So these summarised standards are these:
- Apostolicity. Was it written by an Apostle or one of their colleagues?
- Orthodoxy. Was the teaching orthodox? Consistent with Old Testament and the Christian worldview?
- Catholicity. Not the Catholic Church (that doesn’t exist for a few hundred years yet!)… This meaning widely agreed upon
- Relevance. Was it relevant to the church? Or does it seem completely detached from what we already have in the canon? (I.e. everything Gnostic)
- Inspiration. Did it have the ring of truth, the life changing power within?
We see in 2 Peter 3:15-17 accredit the works of Paul as scriptures, and Peter, being the lead apostle, can testify to apostolicity. Elsewhere in Paul’s letters, Paul has called himself inline with the apostles (Romans 1:1 for example) and several times in 1 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 we see Paul associate himself with the Apostles as those to whom the risen Jesus appeared to. So Paul is an apostle and in Galatians 2:6 the Apostles Peter and James reviewed what Paul was preaching and added nothing to his message, meaning what he was preaching was inline with them.
We have no early opposition to the authorship of 2 Thessalonians, nor any early documents to say this document was not written by Paul or is heretical. So we stand by Paul being the author and fulfilling the apostolic criteria.
As stated on the exchange in the beginning of Galatians 2, Paul got his message verified by the apostles. Paul also has a consistent message in 2 Thessalonians doctrinally with what Jesus teaches on eschatology and warning against false teaching.
There has been no challenge by the early church fathers to 1 Thessalonians, even heretics like Marcion tried to use the document. 1st century Polycarp, a disciple of the Apostle John even makes use of the letter in the 1st century going into he second. There is a strong church agreement on from these disciples of the disciples all the way through the church fathers (Even Peter as we’ve discussed affirms Paul’s writings as scripture).
For Christians standing firm in the face of false teaching and what was not of Christ is something Jesus addressed. Jesus in the gospels after giving the sermon on the mount and other times of teaching, affirmed the warning to guard against false teaching. What Paul here does is apply it for these specific scenarios which are relevant for the era and help us know, with examples, of how to respond to when false teaching comes over the church in this particular way.
Paul is called by God (Acts 9), claims in many of his letters to be sent as an Apostle for Christ Jesus (Romans 1 for example). He has the mandate also of the Apostles (Galatians 1:17 – 2:6; 2 Peter 3:15-17) and is considered by the church Canonical, with it being in all the Christian lists of New Testament books. They could additionally as with all New Testament books recognise the ring of truth within that shows the readers of the text that it is inspired. 2 Thessalonians falls into this bracket. Paul claims in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that all scripture is God breathed (and elsewhere we argue for Paul’s authorship of that letter) and Paul also being the author of this letter is sharing God’s instruction as God’s messenger to us (Acts 9:15). So if Paul is the author, then authority and inspiration to which Paul is given on behalf of God is one we should follow. Simply put, If Paul is the author, it is an inspired work.