Introducing the New Testament, 2nd Edition

A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey


20. 1 Thessalonians

Video Introduction


This chapter offers a brief overview of the contents of 1 Thessalonians, followed by discussion of historical background and major themes.

In terms of historical background, 1 Thessalonians is usually regarded as the earliest of Paul’s letters, written to Gentile Christians in Macedonia within a few years of their conversion. Paul apparently founded this church around the year 50, while practicing a trade in the marketplace at Thessalonika and proclaiming the gospel as he worked. According to the letter, the Thessalonian Christians are being harassed and persecuted by their neighbors, just as other Christians have suffered harassment and persecution from Jews.

In the letter, Paul reflects extensively on the conduct of his ministry, perhaps as an example to the Thessalonians of how they should continue ministering to others. He emphasizes the depth of his devotion to them and the nobility of his motives. Paul also seeks to restore the Thessalonians’ sense of honor, stressing the high estimation they hold in his eyes and in the eyes of God. He offers them standard advice on such matters as sexual morality and the need to work for a living. Then, he takes up the topic that may have necessitated the letter: the Thessalonians are concerned about the fate of those who have died, and Paul explains that the dead in Christ will be raised prior to the parousia, such that both the dead and the living will be caught up in the clouds to meet Christ when he returns.

Study Questions

  1. Describe the process though which the apostle Paul would have arrived in Thessalonika and gone about establishing a Christian church. How would he (as a Jew) have made contact with potential gentile converts and how would he have persuaded such pagans to be attracted to the Christian faith?

  2. What does Paul say about Jews in 1 Thessalonians? How do these remarks compare to what he says elsewhere? How have they been received throughout Christian history, and how are they read by Christian theologians today?

  3. Summarize what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians regarding the conduct of his ministry while he was among them. Give three reasons that have been suggested for why Paul would spend time reminding his converts of these matters.

  4. Discuss the suffering of the Thessalonians against the background of “honor and shame.” How does Paul attempt to assuage that suffering in this letter?

  5. How does Paul respond to the Thessalonians concern regarding those who have died? How does this compare to a “rapture theology” popular among many modern Christians?

Video: The Rapture