We finished a three-year study of Luke’s two-volume writing: Luke-Acts back in December 2015. We then decided to go through each of the letters of Paul in chronological order, taking note of where Paul was in Acts when he wrote them, Paul’s history with the churches to which he wrote, and what happened in those churches that prompted the letter.
We started with Paul’s first canonical writing, Galatians. We then moved on to Paul’s second, First Thessalonians, and we are now at his third, Second Thessalonians.
The background information for 2 Thessalonians is the same as that of 1 Thessalonians for the most part. (See Introduction to First Thessalonians.)
Written by whom, when, and from where?
Paul wrote this letter and included Silas and Timothy in his opening. Though biblical critics will always try, there has been no credible challenge to the Pauline authorship.
Second Thessalonians was written very soon after 1 Thessalonians, perhaps within a few weeks or months. I believe Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians in the spring of AD 50, so that puts the date of the writing of 2 Thessalonians sometime during the summer of 50.
It’s my belief that when we put together the biblical accounts, the following sequence is revealed (see the Introduction to First Thessalonians for details):
- Paul and Silas (and probably Timothy) spent a very brief time in Thessalonica and then Berea where they planted churches amidst persecution (Ac 17:1-14).
- Paul traveled to Athens, leaving Silas and Timothy in Berea (Ac 17:14–15).
- Paul summoned Silas and Timothy to join him in Athens (Ac 17:15).
- Silas and Timothy joined Paul in Athens (1Th 3:1–2).
- Paul became concerned for the churches he had just founded in Macedonia (in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and perhaps others), so he sent Timothy to Thessalonica to find out how that church was doing amid its persecution and opposition (1Th 3:1–2). He may have also sent Timothy and Silas to other cities in Macedonia.
- Paul “left Athens and went to Corinth” (Ac 18:1).
- Silas and Timothy joined Paul again in Corinth, bringing news from the churches of Macedonia (18:5; 1Th 3:6).
- From Corinth, Paul, with Silas and Timothy, wrote his first letter to the church at Thessalonica.
- Within a few weeks or months, also from Corinth, Paul, again with Silas and Timothy, wrote his second letter to the same church.
So, why a second letter so soon after the first? Three reasons are clear from the text.
- It seems that the persecution of the Christians in Thessalonica (and probably in many other places) had continued or grown worse. Some were apparently at the point of despair. Paul provided the Thessalonians incentive to persevere by describing the coming judgment on those who are afflicting them, and the coming glory for all the saints. (1:3-10)
- The Thessalonians had received another letter, supposedly from Paul, claiming that the events of the Day of the Lord had already come. Paul wanted to give them assurance that these claims were false and to also give them a clear way to determine the authenticity of Paul’s genuine letters. (2:1-12; 3:17)
- The problem described in his first letter of those who were refusing to work and sponging off the good will of wealthier believers had continued despite his earlier warnings. Paul more forcefully addresses that issue in his second letter to include disciplinary actions to be taken against them. (3:6-15)
It may be that whoever delivered Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica brought back a report about how the church was doing and that prompted the second letter. Another possibility is that someone—perhaps the elders—in the new Thessalonian church sent word to Paul that these things were happening, asking for help.
This is another letter of encouragement and admonishment. We’ll get into the details next time.