Overview of the Book of 2 Thessalonians

Question

Overview of the Book of 2 Thessalonians

Answer

Overview of the Book of 2 Thessalonians

Author: The author is the Apostle Paul.

Purpose:

To follow up his previous letter (1 Thessalonians) by instructing the Thessalonians further about the return of Christ and the importance of responsible daily living.

Date: A.D. 50-52

Key Truths:

  • Believers are to persevere through suffering until Christ's return.
  • Followers of Christ must not be misled by speculations about his coming return.
  • The return of Christ will bring great judgment and reward.
  • Believers are to live responsibly in their daily affairs in this world as they await Christ's return.

Author:

Paul claimed authorship of this epistle (2 Thess. 1:1; 3:17). Ignatius of Antioch, Polykarp, and Justin Martyr were all apparently familiar with this letter during the first half of the second century. Despite this early attestation, 2 Thessalonians has suffered more frequent and more influential attacks on its authenticity than has 1 Thessalonians. Some scholars have seen the close similarities in subject matter and phraseology between the two letters as an indication of artificiality. But this evidence should be read another way. Who was more capable of echoing Paul's thoughts and expressions than Paul himself?

Some interpreters believe that the two letters teach competing views of the return of Christ and therefore cannot both be products of the same author. First Thessalonians is thought to teach an imminent return of Christ, whereas 2 Thessalonians insists that certain historical events will occur before Christ's return. The supposed conflict is illusory. 1 Thessalonians says nothing definite about the imminence of the second coming, stressing only the suddenness and unexpectedness with which the day of the Lord will overtake the unwary. 2 Thessalonians specifies an order of events so as to counteract a new misunderstanding at Thessalonica that the day of the Lord had already taken place.

Moreover, 2 Thessalonians 2:5 and 2 Thessalonians 3:10 both present information that, had it not been legitimate, could easily have been proven spurious for at least a full generation. It is also difficult to imagine why the warning against letters falsely written in Paul's name (2 Thess. 2:2) would have been included in a counterfeit letter. In sum, there is every reason to affirm that Paul is the author.

Time and Place of Writing:Original Audience:

See "Introduction to 1 Thessalonians: Original Audience."

Purpose and Distinctives:

Two major themes in this letter deserve special attention. As in 1 Thessalonians, Paul again addressed questions raised about the return of Christ. After sending 1 Thessalonians, the apostle had received further reports concerning the Thessalonian congregation. There was cause for rejoicing, for the Thessalonians continued to grow in faith, love and perseverance (2 Thess. 1:3-4), but there was also reason for concern with regard to doctrinal and behavioral matters. 2 Thessalonians was written mainly to supplement Paul's earlier teaching. In it he corrected an unsettling false belief that the day of the Lord had already taken place (2 Thess. 2:1-11). This misguided claim may have been due in part to wrong inferences drawn from Paul's own teaching, coupled with the congregation's painful experience of persecutions presumed to indicate the coming end of the world.

Paul also dealt with chronic idleness (2 Thess. 3:6-15). This misguided behavior of some within the Church had continued unabated after the first letter (1 Thess. 4:11-12; 5:14), stemming from the time the missionaries had been present (2 Thess. 3:10-11). Paul had already given exhortations to rectify the situation, but according to fresh reports (2 Thess. 3:11) matters had only worsened. Many scholars attribute this idleness to a feverish expectation that the Lord's return was imminent (2:1-2 Thess. 3), along with the accompanying conclusion that continuing to work for one's daily sustenance amounted to a denial of faith. Yet it must be pointed out that Paul never explicitly stated that connection himself. Since 2 Thessalonians 3:10 strongly suggests that the problem had surfaced already while the missionaries were in Thessalonica, it would seem to be unlikely that eschatological errors gave birth to the problem, though they may have provided a convenient rationale for its perpetuation.

Notes from the NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Dr. Richard Pratt, ed. (Zondervan, 2003).

Introduction Material:

The Epistles of the New Testament

Copyright:

Copyright, Authors, and Theological Editors of the SORSB

Answer by Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr.

Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. is Co-Founder and President of Third Millennium Ministries who served as Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary and has authored numerous books.