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First Letter to the Thessalonians

When St. Paul parted from St. Barnabas (Acts 15:36-41) at the beginning of what is called his second journey, he chose Silvanus (Silas) as his traveling companion. Soon afterwards he took Timothy along with him (Acts 16:1-3). St. Paul was now clearly at the head of his own missionary band. About A.D. 50, he arrived in Greece for the first time. In making converts in Philippi and soon afterwards, in Thessalonica, he was beset by persecution from Jews and Gentiles alike.

Moving on to Berea, he was again harassed by enemies from Thessalonica and hurriedly left for Athens (Acts 16:11-17:15). Silvanus and Timothy remained behind for a while. St. Paul soon sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to strengthen that community in its trials (1 Thes 3:1-5). Timothy and Silvanus finally returned to St. Paul when he reached Corinth (Acts 18:1-18), probably in the early summer of A.D. 51. Timothy's return with a report on conditions at Thessalonica served as the occasion for St. Paul's first letter (1 Thes 3:6-8).

The letter begins with a brief address (1 Thes 1:1) and concludes with a greeting (1 Thes 5:26-28). The body of the letter consists of two major parts. The first (1 Thes 1:2-3:13) is a set of three sections of thanksgiving connected by two apologiae (defenses) dealing, respectively, with the missionaries' previous conduct and their current concerns. St. Paul's thankful optimism regarding the Thessalonians' spiritual welfare is tempered by his insistence on their recognition of the selfless love shown by the missionaries. In an age of itinerant peddlers of new religions, St. Paul found it necessary to emphasize not only the content of his gospel but also his manner of presenting it, for both attested to God's grace as freely bestowed and powerfully effected.

The second part of the letter (1 Thes 4:1-5:25) is specifically hortatory or parenetic. The superabundant love for which St. Paul has just prayed (1 Thes 3:12-13) is to be shown practically by living out the norms of conduct that he has communicated to them. Specific "imperatives" of Christian life, principles for acting morally, stem from the "indicative" of one's relationship to God through Christ by the sending of the holy Spirit. Thus, moral conduct is the practical, personal expression of one's Christian faith, love, and hope.


The principal divisions of thefirst letter to Thessalonians are the following:

I. Address (1 Thes 1:1-10)
II. Previous Relations with the Thessalonians (1 Thes 2:1-3:13)
III. Specific Exhortations (1 Thes 4:1-5:25)
IV. Final Greeting (1 Thes 5:26-28)


Key Themes

1. The wrath of God comes on those who reject the gospel.
(2:15; 5:3)
2. Jesus' death and resurrections are the basis for the Christian's hope.
(4:14; 5:10)
3. Christians are destined not for wrath but for salvation at Jesus' coming.
(1:10; 5:4, 9)
4. Christians who die will participate fully in the second coming.
(4:14-17; 5:10)
5. Those who respond to the gospel have been elected by God in prehistory and called by God, and they continue to be called by God throughout their earthly lives.
(1:4; 2:12; 4:7; 5:9, 24)
6. Christians should live lives of comprehensive holiness.
(3:12; 4:3-8; 5:23)
7. Christians must never shirk their responsibility to work.
(4:9-12; 5:14)
8. The authenticity of the gospel is confirmed by the integrity of its preachers.
(1:5; 2:1-12)
9. Joy, especially in suffering, is a mark of the Christians.
(1:6; 5:16)
10. Christians experience the realities of the prophesied new covenant.
11. Faith, hope, and love are essential and universal traits of the Christian.
(1:2-3; 5:8)


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