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Chapter 13

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Chapter summary

Chapter 13

Paul and His Apostolic Mission: 1 Thessalonians as a Test Case

Chapter Summary:

First Thessalonians is the oldest Pauline letter that has survived. Scholars date it to around 49 C.E. It is a friendship letter in which Paul renews his ties with the community.

The Founding of the Church in Thessalonica
Paul typically chose large cities in which to spread his gospel, presumably because there were more potential converts. Paul did not concentrate on converting large groups of people: he did not stand on the street corner and shout his message. Rather, he set up shop, perhaps dealing in leather, and talked with people (mostly pagans) as they came around.

Paul probably began the process of conversion by convincing pagans that they were worshipping false Gods (1 Thess 1:9-10). Then he introduced the concept of the one God, the God of Israel. Once Paul convinced a person of these two premises, he began to speak of Jesus as the Son of God who, through his death and resurrection, brought salvation. Accordingly, the Thessalonians believed that Jesus' death and resurrection brought Christians into a right relationship with God. These Christians, furthermore, adhered to Paul's apocalyptic belief that Jesus would return soon to judge the world.

The Beginnings of the Thessalonian Church: A Socio-Historical Perspective
Although historians cannot be certain of the socio-economic makeup of Paul's churches, it seems likely that most converts were not wealthy, elite, or educated-though certainly some were. These Christians did not meet in public places but in private homes called "house churches." The communities apparently thought of themselves as closed groups, and there were strict membership regulations. Perhaps because of the closed nature of their association, they experienced some persecution from those outside the church.

What is atypical about 1 Thessalonians is that this church does not appear to have fallen away from Paul's basic teachings: they do not have the social or ethical problems that plagued the churches in Corinth and Galatia. Paul, nonetheless, warns the Christians against unethical behavior, lest they give outsiders reason to persecute them.

The Church at Thessalonica After Paul's Departure
After Paul, Timothy, and Silvanus left Thessalonica to continue their mission elsewhere, Paul sent Timothy back to the Thessalonians to check on them. When Timothy returned, Paul penned this letter as a response to some of the church's concerns. Their primary concern involved the delay of the parousia. The Thessalonians had taken Paul's apocalyptic message seriously and were disturbed when members of the church died before Jesus' return. The church members were concerned about the ultimate fate of these dead believers. Paul assured the Thessalonians that when Jesus returned, those who had died would be the first raised. Paul, however, still expected some of the church members-including himself-to be alive when his apocalyptic expectations were realized.

Paul wrote in the typical style of Greco-Roman letters: his letters begin with a prescript that names the author(s) and the addressee(s). A prayer or blessing follows, and then there is an expression of thanksgiving to God for the congregation. After the main body of the letter, Paul typically sends greetings to particular church members, gives general admonitions, sometimes refers to his future travel plans, and gives a final blessing and farewell.

Conclusion: Paul the Apostle
Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. His mission in Thessalonica, as well as in other places, was directed at Gentiles. Paul convinced these people to turn away from pagan gods, to accept the God of Israel and Jesus, his only Son. These Christians also wholeheartedly awaited Jesus' return in judgment and vindication.

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