Introducing the New Testament

A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey

Cover Art

Discussion Prompts

  1. How does the eschatology (reflection on end times) of 2 Thessalonians compare with the eschatology in 1 Thessalonians? Be sure to cite evidence from the text.
  2. Powell highlights “tone” as a key difference between 1 and 2 Thessalonians, particularly with respect to the degree of the tone portrayed in the letter. Looking at the two letters together, where do you see evidence of this shift in tone? Is the shift associated with a particular topic? Is there a topic that maintains its tonality from one letter to the next?

Pedagogical Suggestions

Life and Practices of Early Christians

1. In text box 20.3, Powell discusses the “idlers” who appear in both 1 and 2 Thessalonians by pointing to the Didache, a set of Christian teachings from around 100 CE. Ask students to work as social-historians and to examine three key texts as they attempt to reconstruct the social life of early Christian households. Students may choose from the Didache, Paul’s personal example in 2 Thessalonians, Acts 5:1–11, and Matthew 10:7–15.

Rationale

Here students work with a noncanonical writing in conjunction with canonical writings—all within (roughly) a fifty-year period (from a variety of geographical backgrounds). Students practice their analytical skills and their ability to compare and contrast evidence in the reconstruction of ancient Christian social practices.

Eschatology in 2 Thessalonians

2. What is the eschatology presented in 2 Thessalonians? Have students work in groups to enumerate the beliefs about the “last days” and the parousia of Christ articulated in this letter.
Next, for homework, have students interview 3–5 different Christians about their understanding of the “last days” and Christ’s return. Students can construct their interview questions in class before they begin their interviews.
Then, have the groups compare the eschatology in 2 Thessalonians with the eschatologies of Christians today. How do the different beliefs compare? Do students find any trends in the modern beliefs? What is different about the circumstances of the interviewees from the first-century Christians associated with 2 Thessalonians? And, thinking more generally, is there more or less variety in Christian eschatology today than in the New Testament writings seen thus far?

Rationale

Students combine their analytical skills (working with 2 Thessalonians) and their interpersonal skills in interviewing. Additionally, students must negotiate what they have read in an ancient Christian text and what they hear from modern Christians about a particular theological topic. How have two thousand years changed Christianity? What role does culture play in theological beliefs? One cannot arrive at a definitive answer to these questions. But thinking about these questions, putting the ancient and the modern perspectives into conversation, and addressing the issue of how culture shapes belief, challenges students to think in new ways and to connect the classroom material with the social world around them.