Historical Research and the Church at Thessalonica -- By: Merrill F. Unger

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 119:473 (Jan 1962)
Article: Historical Research and the Church at Thessalonica
Author: Merrill F. Unger


Historical Research and the Church at Thessalonica

Merrill F. Unger

[Merrill F. Unger is Professor of Semitics and Old Testament, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

From Philippi Paul traversed the seventy miles to Thessalonica on the Via Egnatia. On his way he passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia apparently without ministering there. Although Amphipolis was a free city according to Pliny1 and capital of eastern Macedonia later in the time of Diocletian, yet at this period it possessed no great importance, being eclipsed by the growing influence of Philippi and Thessalonica. Christianity early took hold at Amphipolis, however, possibly through Paul’s converts from Philippi and Thessalonica, as is evidenced by remains of an early Christian basilica excavated in 1920.

Apollonia, like Amphipolis, was unimportant. Neither city seemed to possess a Jewish population to present an opening for the gospel, so Paul passed on to Thessalonica.

1. Thessalonica the City. Paul’s far-sighted policy of introducing Christianity into the strategic commercial and political centers of the Roman Empire is well illustrated in Thessalonica. Under the Romans this was a city of first-rate importance. Situated on the site of ancient Therma (“Hot Springs”), whose name survived in the Thermaic Gulf (now the Gulf of Salonika), the location was so felicitous, because of its fine harbor with full access to sea lanes and its link with Macedonian cities and markets via the Egnatian Way, that it early attained commercial and military dominance which it has retained to this day.

Its growth dates especially from its rebuilding by

Cassander in the late fourth century B.C. This general of Alexander the Great bestowed upon it the name of his wife Thessalonica (who was a sister to Alexander). It was a strong naval base during the period of civil wars, and was rewarded with the status of a free city (granted autonomy in its internal affairs) because of its loyalty to Octavius and Antony in their conflict with Brutus and Cassius. The poet Antipater, a Thessalonian, called the city “mother of all Macedon”2 and Strabo the Greek geographer of the Augustan age, described it as Macedonia’s most populous town and the provincial metropolis.3

Today the city is called Salonika and is a bustling metropolis of more than 200,000 population, with Jews representing about one-half the total. Its ancient strategic position is illustrated in modern times by the important role the city played in World War I and II, ...

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