Third and Last Section – d. The Letters to the Thessalonians

The Letters to the Thessalonians.


With the constantly recurring formula, “for you know – you are aware – you remember,” the author of the first Thessalonians letter painstakingly prepares the common ground for the discussions between himself and the community he is writing to. He has the Apostle remind his readers of things that should have been so familiar to them that they did not require such anxious and deliberate reminders. Finally, he draws on notes from the Acts of the Apostles, to which the Thessalonians could have been reminded with any other, except for this lengthy, in-depth formula.

“For you yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain” (1 Thessalonians 2:1 *) – really? Was their memory that strong?

“After we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know” (1 Thessalonians 2:2 **) – really? Do they really know? Still, even though it happened just recently?

*) αὐτοὶ γὰρ οἴδατε

**) καθὼς οἴδατε


“You remember our labor and toil” (2:9) *) – really? Did it really need to be mentioned? Wasn’t it self-evident that they would remember how he earned his living by working with his own hands?

“You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers, as you know” **) –

(We sent Timothy to strengthen and encourage you in your faith) “for you know that we are destined for this” ***) –

“When we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know” ****) – really?

And if he reminds them to continue to be more fully obedient to his instructions, can he really rely on them still knowing his commands? †)

And just as fortunate as he is, being able to rely on them still remembering his visit among them ††), they are also fortunate, being able to rely on him still remembering their calling †††)  – this is the pinnacle of fortune and – misfortune, which the author has experienced with his composition.

The author is an unfortunate copyist.

*) νημονεύετε γάρ

**) Ch 2:10,11 καθάπερ οἴδατε

***) Ch 3:3 αὐτοὶ γὰρ οἴδατε

****) Ch 3:4 καθὼς καὶ ἐγένετο καὶ οἴδατε

†) Ch 4:2 οἴδατε γὰρ

††) Ch 1:5 καθὼς οἴδατε οἷοι ἐγενήθημεν . . .

†††) Ch 1:4 εἰδότες τὴν ὑμῶν ἐκλογὴν 


The community is supposed to have been recently established, the apostle is only supposed to have been separated from it for a moment (C. 2, 17), and yet he has a strong desire to see them again, he has wanted to come to them once or twice (v. 18), and has only been prevented from doing so by Satan – he has copied the wish expressed by the apostle at the beginning of the Romans’ letter (C. 1, 10-13) at an inappropriate time and exaggerated the simple remark that he had been prevented from fulfilling his wish to get to know the community personally. He was inspired by the cliché of the one or two-time plan from the Corinthian letters.

He used a cliché from the first Corinthian letter for his phrase, which states that the apostle wants to restore the deficiency found in the faith of the Thessalonians *).

The catchphrases of the same letter are repeated in his phrase, in which the Thessalonians should rightly honor their ecclesiastical superiors who work on them. **)

*) Ch 3, 10 καταρτίσαι τὰ ὑστερήματα τῆς πίστεως ὑμῶν? — he wants to do what the ecclesiastical superiors at Corinth (1 Cor. 16, 17) have done for their congregation (τὸ ὑμῶν ὑστέρημα ἀνεπλήρωσαν).

**) Ch 5:12 εἰδέναι τοὺς κοπιῶντας ἐν ὑμῖν
1 Cor 16:16 ὑποτάσσησθε παντὶ τῷ . . . . . κοπιῶντι . . . . .
V 18 ἐπιγινώσκετε οὖν τοὺς τοιούτους

In addition to the Corinthian letters, he also used the Galatian letter.

His unnatural fear for a community he is supposed to have just left, the fear that prompts him to send Timothy to Thessalonica, is modeled on the second Corinthian letter, from which he also took the consolation that his envoy brings him back *). The catchphrase, however, that he is afraid he may have worked in vain among the Thessalonians is borrowed from the Galatian letter **).

*) It’s just that the messenger who is Timothy in the first Corinthians is Titus in the second – compare 1 Thessalonians 3:6-7 and 2 Corinthians 7:6-7.

**) 1 Thess 3:5 μήπως εἰς κενὸν γένηται ὁ κόπος ἡμῶν
Gal 4:11μήπως εἰκῆ κεκοπίακα εἰς ὑμᾶς.


In his exhortation not to defraud the brother in any matter, he remarks: “For the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.” — A much too precious expression for such a simple moral commonplace — a phrase he borrowed from the discussion in the Galatians’ letter about the curse of anyone preaching another gospel.***)

***) 1 Thess 4:6 καθὼς καὶ προείπομεν ὑμῖν καὶ διεμαρτυράμεθα
Gal 1:9 ὡς προειρήκαμεν καὶ ἄρτι πάλιν λέγω

“Just as he has been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please men, but God who tests our hearts.” — He wants to be the apostle of the Galatians, the apostle who received his gospel through divine revelation and who seeks to please not men but God as a servant of Christ. †)

†) 1 Thess 2:4 οὐχ ὡς ἀνθρώποις ἀρέσκοντες
Gal 1:10 ἢ ζητῶ ἀνθρώποις ἀρέσκειν

In the question “For who is our hope or joy or crown of boasting? Is it not you?” the keyword of boasting as well as the construction of the sentence points to the second Corinthians’ letter ††) — the first and second Corinthians’ letters with their talk about his selflessness, which he demonstrated by working day and night to earn his living — talk that is even more inappropriate in the present letter, since the apostle’s stay in Thessalonica, according to the only source the author could use (Acts 17:2), lasted only three weeks *). Finally, the contrast is borrowed from the first Corinthians’ letter, that the apostle’s gospel came not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit.**)

††) 1 Thess 2:19 τίς γὰρ ἡμῶν . . . . . στέφανος καυχήσεως ἢ οὐχὶ καὶ ὑμεῖς
2 Cor 7:14 ἡ καύχησις ἡμῶν (Compare 2 Cor 3:2)
2 Cor 2:2 τίς ἐστιν ὁ εὐφραίνων με εἰ μὴ . . . . .

*) 1 Thessalonians 2:5 πλεονεξίας  compare 2 Corinthians 7:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:9. Compare also 1 Corinthians 4:12 and 2 Corinthians 11:9.

**) 1 Thess. 1, 5 and 1 Cor. 2, 4. Also compare 1 Thess. 1, 6 with 1 Kor. 11, 1.


It is worth mentioning the confusion of the passage in which the Apostle notes that the Thessalonians suffered the same from their own countrymen ***) as the churches in Judea suffered from the Jews – they, the Thessalonians, from their Greek, pagan countrymen †) – no! – they also suffered from the Jews, because the author is thinking of the Jewish intrigues that persecuted the Apostle to the Gentiles from Asia to Greece, according to the Acts of the Apostles, and already threatened the church in Thessalonica in its birth – the Jews are supposed to be the opponents of the Thessalonians, because the author calls them “the enemies of all people” ††) – the author even designates the persecutions that the Thessalonians also suffered a moment later (v. 16) as evidence of the hostility with which the Jews opposed the Apostle in his work of salvation among the Gentiles – in short, the Jews are supposed to be those own countrymen of the Thessalonians, and they cannot be – they are their pagan countrymen, and it is supposed to be the Jews.

***) 1 Thess 2:14 ὑπὸ τῶν ἰδίων συμφυλετῶν.

†) for the Thessalonians are said (1 Thess. 1, 9) to have originally been heathens.

††) 1 Thess 2:15 πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις ἐναντίων. Tacitus Histories 5:5  adversus omnes alios hostile odium. Compare and that odium humani generis in Tacitus Annals 15:44.


As for the doctrinal content of the letter, which is overshadowed by lengthy reminiscences of things and situations that should have been clear to the Thessalonians even without these laborious refreshers, and by moral maxims, the author steps back too much. Namely, the instruction about the Lord’s return, he has taken everything he presents to arouse faith from the gospel discourse on the Parousia and the first Corinthians letter.

He even admits that his readers know very well about the time and the moment, that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night, that is, his readers know the main thing from the gospel. He has even borrowed the construction of the decisive sentence from the gospel himself *).

He explicitly states (C. 4,15) that his explanation is based “on the word of the Lord” – but in truth, he derives his comfort that the Lord will come for the dead as well as the living from the sentence structure of his description of the Lord’s appearance, which he takes from the first Corinthians letter. **)

*) 1 Thess 5:1 περὶ δὲ τῶν χρόνων καὶ καιρῶν
Mark 13:32 περὶ δὲ τῆς ἡμέρας ἐκείνης και τῆς ὥρας
The thief in the night is taken from Luke 12:39.

**) 1 Thessalonians 5:14-16 compared with 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52.
1 Thess 4:16 [corrected from 5:16] ἐν σάλπιγγι Θεο.
1 Cor 15:52 ἐν σάλπιγγι ἐσχάτῃ
“At both places there is also a triple repetition…”


We cannot even assume that the author wrote his letter with the intention of addressing doubts and concerns about the Parousia – not a single aspect of his letter would support this assumption. Rather, he deals with the mere doubt about the resurrection in general, which, according to the type of the first letter to the Corinthians, still depended on the Parousia of the Lord. The cold nature and abstract origin of his composition is finally revealed in the fact that he gives a stiff imitation of the argumentation of the first letter to the Corinthians as a refutation of that doubt. *)

*) 1 Thess 4:14 εἰ γὰρ πιστεύομεν ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ἀπέθανε καὶ ἀνέστη, οὕτω . . . .
1 Cor 15:12 εἰ δὲ Χριστὸς κηρύσσεται ὅτι ἐκ νεκρῶν ἐγήγερται, πῶς

And what about the author of the second letter to the Thessalonians? Does he really have the interest, as is assumed of him and his predecessor, to combat a specific deviation, the contempt for work, the view that secular work and effort are unnecessary in view of the proximity of the Parousia?

So, because the author of the first letter, before addressing the Day of the Lord, mentions the common saying about the respectability of life through manual labor in the course of his moral instructions (4:11) – because the author of the second letter, long after the conclusion of his excursus on the Last Judgment, after speaking as the supposed apostle about working for his own livelihood, calls on the readers to behave likewise (3:8-12) – therefore, both letters are supposed to combat a carelessness regarding worldly interests that is based on the assumption of the imminent Parousia?


Even if I take into account all the clumsiness that is inherent in both as composers, I must confess that in both letters I do not find the slightest reason to join the general assumption.

No! After the author of the first letter had compiled his frosty composition of the evangelical passages and the excursus of the first Corinthians letter on the Lord’s return to combat doubt about the resurrection, the author of the second letter sought to dogmatically justify the later doubt about the proximity of the decision with his reflections on the causes that push back the Lord’s return into a further distance. He has come to the conclusion that the worldly and diabolical opposition must first come to fruition and appear in its personal representative (C. 2, 6-12) before thinking about the Lord’s parousia.

The author of the second letter does not speak as if he had written the first one, nor does he even openly refer to it – the warning in C. 2, 2, that they should not be disturbed by anything, even by a letter that seems to come from him *), as if the day of Christ is imminent – this warning can only refer to the first letter, but the author does not openly designate it as the subject of his polemic and is content with his hidden allusion.

*) μήτε δι’ ἐπιστολῆς ὡς δι’ ἡμῶν


He did not write the first letter. Although he copied the greeting (1 Thessalonians 1:1-2) verbatim, he took several phrases from the first letter word for word, and a couple of times he allowed himself to be drawn into the track of assuming that the readers would remember a known circumstance or that something was notoriously established. *) However, where he speaks independently, **) his diction approaches that endless and random sentence structure found particularly in the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians, which winds through the intended topic through a confusion of constantly alternating side turns, that is, through nothing but relative clauses that pick up the keyword of the last phrase and carry it forward in a new direction.

*) 2 Thess 2:5. 3:7
**) e.g. Ch 1:3-10

The concluding remark (1 Thessalonians 3:17), “The greeting is in my own hand—Paul. This is a sign in every letter; this is how I write,” is nothing more than an exaggerated echo of the remark in the first letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 16:21).


After it has been proven that the author of the first Thessalonians knew and used the Acts of the Apostles, it is time to decide the question about Marcion’s supposed Apostolicon.

Irenaeus and Tertullian are the first to report that this Gnostic possessed an apostolic collection of letters. Both assume that he mutilated the Pauline letters. Tertullian and, after him, Epiphanius provide more detail, stating that his collection consisted only of Pauline letters and that the Pastoral Epistles were missing from it. Marcion’s collection therefore contained the ten Pauline letters that the present church canon contains, except for the Pastoral Epistles.


In the fifth book of his work against this Gnostic, Tertullian expresses his outrage over all the mutilations and falsifications that Marcion had committed to these letters – but from all his declamations, it only emerges that the variations that the letter collection presented to him consisted of insignificant omissions that no copyist, even with the greatest care, could avoid or were just different readings, which can still be found in manuscripts today.

If Tertullian’s actual accusation falls to the ground – does his assumption remain that Marcion really had the collection of those ten letters in his hands?

But on what is this assumption based?

On nothing!

Yes, if he had given us reliable information that Marcion had provided this letter collection, just like his Gospel of Luke, with antithetical comments – if he had actually conveyed some of these antitheses to us – then it would be something different.

But neither he nor the entire ecclesiastical antiquity can show us the slightest trace from which we could even suspect that Marcion had such a letter collection in his hands.

Once *) Tertullian claims that the terrible heretic used the second chapter of the Galatians to deny all value to the Gospels that came from the apostles and their disciples as Judaizing products – but it is still too lenient when Semler *) notes that it is “not quite certain, historically not clear, whether Marcion took the basis from the letter to the Galatians to not accept any of those Gospels that were here and there in the churches” and then raises the assumption that “it could all be just Tertullian’s declamation” – declaimers, however, who, like Irenaeus and Tertullian, live on the firm assumption that the canon, as they possess it, has also been in the hands of all earlier heretics, can, if they give us arguments and conclusions instead of solid documents **) that are based on the current canon, do not give us the slightest insight into an antiquity of which they had as little idea as of the actual nature of the bedding, whose result was their own consciousness.

*) in the third chapter of the fourth book of his treatise against Marcion.

*) in his preface to Townson’s treatise on the four Gospels. 1783. Part One.

**) by “more reliable”, I mean that these documents must be more certain and trustworthy than, for example, that letter of Marcion’s, which according to Tertullian (De carne Christi, ch. 2, ch. 4, §4) is supposed to bear witness to his knowledge of the other canonical Gospels and his earlier recognition of them. Even Semler says, in the same work: “The whole of history knows nothing about this letter; it must be a creation of Tertullian’s, like so many other things.” If the letter did actually exist, as one is almost forced to assume from Tertullian’s bold use of it, then it can only be a later apocryphal work, created on the basis of the church’s assumption that Marcion must have known the entire canon.


Marcion only knew the writing of the proto-Luke — and several Pauline letters, which could only have been written after the Acts of the Apostles, the second part of the current Gospel of Luke, are said to have already been written at his time and to have been in his possession?


It is impossible. When Marcion flourished, towards the end of the fourth decade of the second century, there was neither an Acts of the Apostles nor the current Gospel of Luke.

The audacity with which Irenaeus and Tertullian speak of a collection of letters can only be based on the fact that it was circulating among his followers. The fact that this collection lacked the Pastoral Epistles, the latest product in the series of supposed Pauline letters, proves that it was formed before they were written.

Finally, what may still seem too daring in the above I will completely substantiate when I show evidence of the late date to which the letters of Clement, Polycarp, and Ignatius, which are partly *) frozen imitations of the canonical Pauline letters, belong.

*) i.e. apart from the expressions which are the product and expression of a more sophisticated reflection.



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Neil Godfrey

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