I Thessalonians is probably the earliest writing that we have from the Christian era. Here is where the written record of the Gospel of Jesus Christ begins. And, here also, are the earliest recorded thoughts of one of its most successful advocates. Paul of Tarsus was the dividing line between the Jewish followers centered in Jerusalem and the Gentile church of later centuries. This short letter is the beginning.
Written in either AD 50 or AD 51, this epistle is a communication between an active, itinerant preacher and a group of people that he and those he traveled with had been with a short time earlier. It is an active document that was meant to encourage and answer questions.
This letter was probably written while Paul was in Corinth. Corinth was one of two cities where Paul had extended stays (the other being Ephesus). He was forced to flee from Phillipi, Thessalonica and eventually Berea (Acts 16 & 17). After a disappointing stay at Athens, in Corinth the small band of Silas, Paul, and Timothy found a city they could settle in, working and teaching over an extended period of time.
A temptation when reading the early epistles is to read into them the forceful presence of The Apostle Paul. I Thessalonians is not a letter from a dominant cleric to his flock. Rather, this letter is a joint effort between members of a team that had been working together for quite some time. During the first missionary journey, Barnabus was considered to be the senior partner. Only in Corinth during this second journey does Paul's leadership abilities begin to flourish. This letter is a joint effort between Paul and Silas, with likely significant contributions from the junior member, Timothy.
Moreover, Silas is a common element between the Thessalonian epistles and the letter we now call I Peter (I Peter 5:12). An examination of the themes and style of both writings have led some to re-examine the role of Silas.
Thessalonica was an important city in the expansion of Christianity. Its position on the Egnatian Road had made it an important commercial center. The goods of the Eastern Empire flowed to Rome along this road. Military might and culture flowed outward from Rome and Greece through this capital city of Macedonia. Two hundred thousand people lived in this city. Here and in Corinth, the Gospel of Christ confronted Greek culture for the first time.
For more information on 1 Thessalonians and other New Testament books including excellent bibliographies for in-depth studies, see www.bible.org.
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